The potential of plant growth promoting (PGP) bacteria in improving the performance of plants in suboptimal environments is increasingly acknowledged, but little information is available on the mechanisms underlying this interaction, particularly when plants are subjected to a combination of stresses. In this study, we investigated the effects of the inoculation with the PGP bacteria Azospirillum brasilense (Azospirillum) on the metabolism of the model cereal Brachypodium distachyon (Brachypodium) grown at low temperatures and supplied with insufficient phosphorus. Investigating polar metabolite and lipid fluctuations during early plant development, we found that the bacteria initially elicited a defense response in Brachypodium roots, while at later stages Azospirillum reduced the stress caused by phosphorus deficiency and improved root development of inoculated plants, particularly by stimulating the growth of branch roots. We propose that the interaction of the plant with Azospirillum was influenced by its nutritional status: bacteria were sensed as pathogens while plants were still phosphorus sufficient, but the interaction became increasingly beneficial for the plants as their phosphorus levels decreased. Our results provide new insights on the dynamics of the cereal-PGP bacteria interaction, and contribute to our understanding of the role of beneficial microorganisms in the growth of cereal crops in suboptimal environments.
Keywords: Azospirillum brasilense Sp245; Brachypodium distachyon Bd21-3; cereals; lipidomics; metabolomics; plant growth promoting (PGP) bacteria; root metabolism.