The contribution of chemotaxis to the competitive colonization of the rhizosphere for the vast majority of the soil community is unknown. We have developed and applied a molecular diagnostic tool, based on a gene encoding the central regulator of bacterial chemotaxis (cheA), to characterize and temporally track specific populations of native microbes with chemotaxis potential that are present in soil exposed to two rhizospheres: wheat and cowpea. The data show that the chemotactic-competent communities present in the rhizospheres of the two plants are distinct and less diverse than the bulk soil, indicating the development of unique microbial communities. Consistent with the supposition that selection and recruitment of specific soil microbes takes place in the rhizosphere, the dynamics of specific cheA phylotypes provides support for the hypothesis that chemotaxis provides a competitive advantage to some soil microbes. This is the first study to examine and profile the genetic diversity of chemotaxis genes in natural populations. As such, it illustrates our limited understanding of microbial chemotaxis for the majority of soil microbes. It also highlights the value of a culture-independent approach for examining chemotaxis populations in order to build empirical lines of evidence for its role in structuring of microbial assemblages.
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