Mechanisms of microbially enhanced Fe acquisition in red clover (Trifolium pratense L.)


Shao Jian Zheng. Fax: +86 5718643 3724; e-mail:


Soil microorganisms may play an important role in plant Fe uptake from soils with low Fe bioavailability, but there is little direct experimental evidence to date. We grew red clover, an Fe-efficient leguminous plant, in a calcareous soil to investigate the role of soil microbial activity in plant Fe uptake. Compared with plants grown in non-sterlie (NS) grown plants, growth and Fe content of the sterile(s) grown plants was significantly inhibited, but was improved by foliar application of Fe EDTA, indicating that soil microbial activity should play an important role in plant Fe acquisition. When soil solution was incubated with phenolic root exudates from Fe-deficient red clover, a few microbial species thrived while growth of the rest was inhibited, suggesting that the Fe-deficient (– Fe) root exudates selectively influenced the rhizosphere's microbial community. Eighty six per cent of the phenolic-tolerant microbes could produce siderophore [the Fe(III) chelator] under – Fe conditions, and 71% could secrete auxin-like compounds. Interestingly, the synthetic and microbial auxins (MAs) significantly enhanced the Ferric reduction system, suggesting that MAs, in addition to siderophores, are important to plant Fe uptake. Finally, plant growth and Fe uptake in sterilized soil were significantly increased by rhizobia inoculation. Root Fe–EDTA reductase activity in the – Fe plant was significantly enhanced by rhizobia infection, and the rhizobia could produce auxin but not siderophore under Fe-limiting conditions, suggesting that the contribution of nodulating rhizobia to plant Fe uptake can be at least partially attributed to stimulation of turbo reductase activity through nodule formation and auxin production in the rhizosphere. Based on these observations, we propose as a model that root exudates from – Fe plants selectively influence the rhizosphere microbial community, and the microbes in turn favour plant Fe acquisition by producing siderophores and auxins.