Bacterial Analogs of Plant Tetrahydropyridine Alkaloids Mediate Microbial Interactions in a Rhizosphere Model System

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2019 May 2;85(10):e03058-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03058-18. Print 2019 May 15.


Plants expend significant resources to select and maintain rhizosphere communities that benefit their growth and protect them from pathogens. A better understanding of assembly and function of rhizosphere microbial communities will provide new avenues for improving crop production. Secretion of antibiotics is one means by which bacteria interact with neighboring microbes and sometimes change community composition. In our analysis of a taxonomically diverse consortium from the soybean rhizosphere, we found that Pseudomonas koreensis selectively inhibits growth of Flavobacterium johnsoniae and other members of the Bacteroidetes grown in soybean root exudate. A genetic screen in P. koreensis identified a previously uncharacterized biosynthetic gene cluster responsible for the inhibitory activity. Metabolites were isolated based on biological activity and were characterized using tandem mass spectrometry, multidimensional nuclear magnetic resonance, and Mosher ester analysis, leading to the discovery of a new family of bacterial tetrahydropyridine alkaloids, koreenceine A to D (metabolites 1 to 4). Three of these metabolites are analogs of the plant alkaloid γ-coniceine. Comparative analysis of the koreenceine cluster with the γ-coniceine pathway revealed distinct polyketide synthase routes to the defining tetrahydropyridine scaffold, suggesting convergent evolution. Koreenceine-type pathways are widely distributed among Pseudomonas species, and koreenceine C was detected in another Pseudomonas species from a distantly related cluster. This work suggests that Pseudomonas and plants convergently evolved the ability to produce similar alkaloid metabolites that can mediate interbacterial competition in the rhizosphere.IMPORTANCE The microbiomes of plants are critical to host physiology and development. Microbes are attracted to the rhizosphere due to massive secretion of plant photosynthates from roots. Microorganisms that successfully join the rhizosphere community from bulk soil have access to more abundant and diverse molecules, producing a highly competitive and selective environment. In the rhizosphere, as in other microbiomes, little is known about the genetic basis for individual species' behaviors within the community. In this study, we characterized competition between Pseudomonas koreensis and Flavobacterium johnsoniae, two common rhizosphere inhabitants. We identified a widespread gene cluster in several Pseudomonas spp. that is necessary for the production of a novel family of tetrahydropyridine alkaloids that are structural analogs of plant alkaloids. We expand the known repertoire of antibiotics produced by Pseudomonas in the rhizosphere and demonstrate the role of the metabolites in interactions with other rhizosphere bacteria.

Keywords: Flavobacterium johnsoniae; Pseudomonas koreensis; antibiotics; bacterial competition; convergent evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / metabolism*
  • Flavobacterium / growth & development*
  • Microbial Interactions
  • Pseudomonas / physiology*
  • Pyrrolidines / metabolism*
  • Rhizosphere*
  • Soil Microbiology


  • Alkaloids
  • Pyrrolidines

Supplementary concepts

  • Flavobacterium johnsoniae
  • Pseudomonas koreensis