Successive passaging of a plant-associated microbiome reveals robust habitat and host genotype-dependent selection

Norma M. Morella, Francis Cheng Hsuan Weng, Pierre M. Joubert, C. Jessica, Steven Lindow, Britt Koskella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


There is increasing interest in the plant microbiome as it relates to both plant health and agricultural sustainability. One key unanswered question is whether we can select for a plant microbiome that is robust after colonization of target hosts. We used a successive passaging experiment to address this question by selecting upon the tomato phyllosphere microbiome. Beginning with a diverse microbial community generated from field-grown tomato plants, we inoculated replicate plants across 5 plant genotypes for 4 45-d passages, sequencing the microbial community at each passage. We observed consistent shifts in both the bacterial (16S amplicon sequencing) and fungal (internal transcribed spacer region amplicon sequencing) communities across replicate lines over time, as well as a general loss of diversity over the course of the experiment, suggesting that much of the naturally observed microbial community in the phyllosphere is likely transient or poorly adapted within the experimental setting. We found that both host genotype and environment shape microbial composition, but the relative importance of genotype declines through time. Furthermore, using a community coalescence experiment, we found that the bacterial community from the end of the experiment was robust to invasion by the starting bacterial community. These results highlight that selecting for a stable microbiome that is well adapted to a particular host environment is indeed possible, emphasizing the great potential of this approach in agriculture and beyond. In light of the consistent response of the microbiome to selection in the absence of reciprocal host evolution (coevolution) described here, future studies should address how such adaptation influences host health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1148-1159
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 14 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Experimental evolution
  • Microbiome assembly
  • Microbiome engineering
  • Microbiome selection
  • Phyllosphere


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