Phenotypic diversity of Methylobacterium associated with rice landraces in North-East India

PLoS One. 2020 Feb 24;15(2):e0228550. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228550. eCollection 2020.


The ecology and distribution of many bacteria is strongly associated with specific eukaryotic hosts. However, the impact of such host association on bacterial ecology and evolution is not well understood. Bacteria from the genus Methylobacterium consume plant-derived methanol, and are some of the most abundant and widespread plant-associated bacteria. In addition, many of these species impact plant fitness. To determine the ecology and distribution of Methylobacterium in nature, we sampled bacteria from 36 distinct rice landraces, traditionally grown in geographically isolated locations in North-East (NE) India. These landraces have been selected for diverse phenotypic traits by local communities, and we expected that the divergent selection on hosts may have also generated divergence in associated Methylobacterium strains. We determined the ability of 91 distinct rice-associated Methylobacterium isolates to use a panel of carbon sources, finding substantial variability in carbon use profiles. Consistent with our expectation, across spatial scales this phenotypic variation was largely explained by host landrace identity rather than geographical factors or bacterial taxonomy. However, variation in carbon utilisation was not correlated with sugar exudates on leaf surfaces, suggesting that bacterial carbon use profiles do not directly determine bacterial colonization across landraces. Finally, experiments showed that at least some rice landraces gain an early growth advantage from their specific phyllosphere-colonizing Methylobacterium strains. Together, our results suggest that landrace-specific host-microbial relationships may contribute to spatial structure in rice-associated Methylobacterium in a natural ecosystem. In turn, association with specific bacteria may provide new ways to preserve and understand diversity in one of the most important food crops of the world.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Crops, Agricultural / metabolism
  • Crops, Agricultural / microbiology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • India
  • Methylobacterium / classification*
  • Methylobacterium / genetics
  • Methylobacterium / growth & development
  • Methylobacterium / metabolism
  • Oryza / metabolism
  • Oryza / microbiology*
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny*
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves / microbiology


  • Carbon

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.11316269

Grant support

This work was supported by: DA, Grant DBT-358 NER/AGRI/24/2013 from the Department of Biotechnology, India, and by the National Centre for Biological Sciences. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.