The analysis of Metarhizium robertsii potential as endophytic plant root coloniser, plant growth enhancer and antagonist to bean root pathogen Fusarium solani f. sp. phaseolis.
Sasan, Ramanpreet Kaur
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The soil-inhabiting insect-pathogenic fungus Metarhizium robertsii also colonizes plant roots endophytically, thus showing potential as a plant symbiont. M robertsii is not randomly distributed in soils but preferentially associates with the plant rhizosphere when applied in agricultural settings. Root surface and endophytic colonization of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and haricot beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) by M robertsii were examined after inoculation with fungal conidia. Light and confocal microscopies were used to ascertain this rhizosphere association. Root lengths, root hair density and emergence of lateral roots were also measured. Initially, M robertsii conidia adhered to, germinated on, and colonized, roots. Furthermore, plant roots treated with Metarhizium grew faster and the density of plant root hairs increased when compared with control plants. The onset of plant root hair proliferation was initiated before germination of M robertsii on the root (within 1-2 days). Plants inoculated with M robertsii AMAD2 (plant adhesin gene) took significantly longer to show root hair proliferation than the wild type. Cell free extracts of M robertsii did not stimulate root hair proliferation. Longer term (60 days) associations showed that M robertsii endophytically colonized individual cortical cells within bean roots. Metarhizium appeared as an amorphous mycelial aggregate within root cortical cells as well as between the intercellular spaces with no apparent damage to the plant. These results suggested that not only is M robertsii rhizosphere competent but displays a beneficial endophytic association with plant roots that results in the proliferation of root hairs. The biocontrol of bean (Phaseolis vulgaris) root rot fungus Fusarium solani f. sp. phaseolis by Metarhizium robertsii was investigated in vitro and in vivo. Dual cultures on Petri dishes showed antagonism of M robertsii against F. solani. A relative inhibition of ca. 60% of F. solani growth was observed in these assays. Cell free culture filtrates of M robertsii inhibited the germination of F. solani conidia by 83% and the inhibitory metabolite was heat stable. Beans plants colonized by M robertsii then exposed to F. solani showed healthier plant profiles and lower disease indices compared to plants not colonized by M robertsii. These results suggested that the insect pathogenic/endophytic fungus M robertsii could also be utilized as a biocontrol agent against certain plant pathogens occurring in the rhizosphere.