Below-ground-above-ground Plant-microbial Interactions: Focusing on Soybean, Rhizobacteria and Mycorrhizal Fungi

Nicholas O. Igiehon, Olubukola O. Babalola*
Food Security and Safety Niche, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Private Mail Bag X2046, North-West University, Mmabatho 2735, South Africa

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© 2018 Igiehon and Babalola.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Food Security and Safety Niche, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Private Mail Bag X2046, North-West University, Mmabatho 2735, South Africa, Tel: +27183892568; E-mails:;



Organisms seldom exist in isolation and are usually involved in interactions with several hosts and these interactions in conjunction with the physicochemical parameters of the soil affect plant growth and development. Researches into below and aboveground microbial community are unveiling a myriad of intriguing interactions within the rhizosphere, and many of the interactions are facilitated by exudates that are secreted by plants roots. These interactions can be harnessed for beneficial use in agriculture to enhance crop productivity especially in semi-arid and arid environments.

The Rhizosphere:

The rhizosphere is the region of soil close to plants roots that contain large number of diverse organisms. Examples of microbial candidates that are found in the rhizosphere include the Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) and rhizobacteria. These rhizosphere microorganisms use plant root secretions such as mucilage and flavonoids which are able to influence their diversity and function and also enhance their potential to colonize plants root.

Natural Interactions between Microorganisms and Plant:

In the natural environments, plants live in interactions with different microorganisms, which thrive belowground in the rhizosphere and aboveground in the phyllosphere. Some of the plant-microbial interactions (which can be in the form of antagonism, amensalism, parasitism and symbiosis) protect the host plants against detrimental microbial and non-microbial invaders and provide nutrients for plants while others negatively affect plants. These interactions can influence below-ground-above-ground plants’ biomass development thereby playing significant role in sustaining plants. Therefore, understanding microbial interactions within the rhizosphere and phyllosphere is urgent towards farming practices that are less dependent on conventional chemical fertilizers, which have known negative impacts on the environments.

Below Ground Rhizobacteria Interactions Alleviate Drought Stress:

Drought stress is one of the major factors militating against agricultural productivity globally and is likely to further increase. Belowground rhizobacteria interactions could play important role in alleviating drought stress in plants. These beneficial rhizobacterial colonize the rhizosphere of plants and impart drought tolerance by up regulation or down regulation of drought responsive genes such as ascorbate peroxidase, S-adenosyl-methionine synthetase, and heat shock protein.

Insights into Below and above the Ground Microbial Interactions via Omic Studies:

Investigating complex microbial community in the environment is a big challenge. Therefore, omic studies of microorganisms that inhabit the rhizosphere are important since this is where most plant-microbial interactions occur. One of the aims of this review is not to give detailed account of all the present omic techniques, but instead to highlight the current omic techniques that can possibly lead to detection of novel genes and their respective proteins within the rhizosphere which may be of significance in enhancing crop plants (such as soybean) productivity especially in semi-arid and arid environments.

Future Prospects and Conclusions:

Plant-microbial interactions are not totally understood, and there is, therefore, the need for further studies on these interactions in order to get more insights that may be useful in sustainable agricultural development. With the emergence of omic techniques, it is now possible to effectively monitor transformations in rhizosphere microbial community together with their effects on plant development. This may pave way for scientists to discover new microbial species that will interact effectively with plants. Such microbial species can be used as biofertilizers and/or bio-pesticides to increase crop yield and enhance global food security.

Keywords: Drought, Microbial interactions, Rhizosphere, Soybean, Omic studies, Biofertilizers.