Impacts of Repeated Glyphosate Use on Wheat-Associated Bacteria Are Small and Depend on Glyphosate Use History

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Oct 31;83(22):e01354-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01354-17. Print 2017 Nov 15.


Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide worldwide and a critical tool for weed control in no-till cropping systems. However, there are concerns about the nontarget impacts of long-term glyphosate use on soil microbial communities. We investigated the impacts of repeated glyphosate treatments on bacterial communities in the soil and rhizosphere of wheat in soils with and without long-term history of glyphosate use. We cycled wheat in the greenhouse using soils from 4 paired fields under no-till (20+-year history of glyphosate) or no history of use. At each cycle, we terminated plants with glyphosate (2× the field rate) or by removing the crowns, and soil and rhizosphere bacterial communities were characterized. Location, cropping history, year, and proximity to the roots had much stronger effects on bacterial communities than did glyphosate, which only explained 2 to 5% of the variation. Less than 1% of all taxa were impacted by glyphosate, more in soils with a long history of use, and more increased than decreased in relative abundance. Glyphosate had minimal impacts on soil and rhizosphere bacteria of wheat, although dying roots after glyphosate application may provide a "greenbridge" favoring some copiotrophic taxa.IMPORTANCE Glyphosate (Roundup) is the most widely used herbicide in the world and the foundation of Roundup Ready soybeans, corn, and the no-till cropping system. However, there have been recent concerns about nontarget impacts of glyphosate on soil microbes. Using next-generation sequencing methods and glyphosate treatments of wheat plants, we described the bacterial communities in the soil and rhizosphere of wheat grown in Pacific Northwest soils across multiple years, different locations, and soils with different histories of glyphosate use. The effects of glyphosate were subtle and much less than those of drivers such as location and cropping systems. Only a small percentage of the bacterial groups were influenced by glyphosate, and most of those were stimulated, probably because of the dying roots. This study provides important information for the future of this important tool for no-till systems and the environmental benefits of reducing soil erosion and fossil fuel inputs.

Keywords: Roundup; glyphosate; rhizosphere; rhizosphere-inhabiting microbes; soil microbiome; tillage; wheat.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Glycine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glycine / pharmacology
  • Herbicides / pharmacology*
  • Plant Roots / microbiology
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Triticum / drug effects
  • Triticum / microbiology*


  • Herbicides
  • glyphosate
  • Glycine