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Comparison of root system architecture an rhizosphere microbial communities of Balsas teosinte and domesticated corn cultivars

The progenitor of maize is Balsas teosinte (Zea mays subsp. parviglumis) which grows as a wild plant in the valley of the Balsas river in Mexico. Domestication, primarily targeting above-ground traits, has led to substantial changes in the plant's morphology and modern maize cultivars poorly resemble their wild ancestor. We examined the hypotheses that Balsas teosinte (accession PI 384071) has a) a different root system architecture and b) a structurally and functionally different rhizosphere microbial community than domesticated cultivars sweet corn (Zea mays subsp. mays accession PI 494083) and popping corn (Zea mays subsp. mays accession PI 542713). In a greenhouse experiment, five plants from each corn variety were grown in individual pots containing a Maury silt loam e perlite (2:1) mixture and grown to the V8 growth stage at which rhizosphere bacterial and fungal community structure was assessed using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and fatty acid methyl ester analysis. Functional characteristics of the rhizosphere were assayed by examining the potential activity of seven extracellular enzymes involved in carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling. Root system architecture was characterized by root scans of sand grown plants at the V5 growth stage. Compared to the control the sweet corn rhizosphere had different bacterial and fungal community structure, decreased fungal diversity and increased bacterial abundance. Teosinte caused a significant change in the rhizosphere bacterial and fungal community structure and increased bacterial abundance, but no significant decrease in bacterial or fungal diversity where the former was found to be significantly greater than in the sweet corn rhizosphere. Popping corn did not trigger significant changes in the bacterial or fungal diversity and bacterial abundance in the soil. The individual popping corn plants changed the bacterial and fungal communities in different directions and the overall effect on community structure was significant, but small. Of the enzymes analyzed, potential N-acetylglucosaminidase (NAG) activity was found to contributed most to the differentiation of teosinte rhizosphere samples from the other corn varieties. The teosinte root system had proportionally more very fine (diameter < 0.03 mm) roots than popping corn and sweet corn and it developed the highest root to shoot dry weight ratio, followed by popping corn. Sweet corn had significantly lower average root diameter than popping corn and teosinte and grew proportionally the least below-ground dry mass. The results allude to functional and structural differences in the rhizosphere microbial communities of the corn varieties that, with additional research, could lead to useful discoveries on how corn domestication has altered rhizosphere processes and how plant genotype influences nutrient cycling.



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