Pinpointing secondary metabolites that shape the composition and function of the plant microbiome

J Exp Bot. 2021 Jan 20;72(1):57-69. doi: 10.1093/jxb/eraa424.


One of the major questions in contemporary plant science involves determining the functional mechanisms that plants use to shape their microbiome. Plants produce a plethora of chemically diverse secondary metabolites, many of which exert bioactive effects on microorganisms. Several recent publications have unequivocally shown that plant secondary metabolites affect microbiome composition and function. These studies have pinpointed that the microbiome can be influenced by a diverse set of molecules, including: coumarins, glucosinolates, benzoxazinoids, camalexin, and triterpenes. In this review, we summarize the role of secondary metabolites in shaping the plant microbiome, highlighting recent literature. A body of knowledge is now emerging that links specific plant metabolites with distinct microbial responses, mediated via defined biochemical mechanisms. There is significant potential to boost agricultural sustainability via the targeted enhancement of beneficial microbial traits, and here we argue that the newly discovered links between root chemistry and microbiome composition could provide a new set of tools for rationally manipulating the plant microbiome.

Keywords: Benzoxazinoids; camalexin; coumarins; glucosinolates; microbial community assembly; plant–microbe interactions; secondary metabolites; triterpenes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Microbiota*
  • Plant Roots
  • Plants
  • Rhizosphere*