Various abiotic stressors like drought, salinity, temperature, and heavy metals are major environmental stresses that affect agricultural productivity and crop yields all over the world. Continuous changes in climatic conditions put selective pressure on the microbial ecosystem to produce exopolysaccharides. Apart from soil aggregation, exopolysaccharide (EPS) production also helps in increasing water permeability, nutrient uptake by roots, soil stability, soil fertility, plant biomass, chlorophyll content, root and shoot length, and surface area of leaves while also helping maintain metabolic and physiological activities during drought stress. EPS-producing microbes can impart salt tolerance to plants by binding to sodium ions in the soil and preventing these ions from reaching the stem, thereby decreasing sodium absorption from the soil and increasing nutrient uptake by the roots. Biofilm formation in high-salinity soils increases cell viability, enhances soil fertility, and promotes plant growth and development. The third environmental stressor is presence of heavy metals in the soil due to improper industrial waste disposal practices that are toxic for plants. EPS production by soil bacteria can result in the biomineralization of metal ions, thereby imparting metal stress tolerance to plants. Finally, high temperatures can also affect agricultural productivity by decreasing plant metabolism, seedling growth, and seed germination. The present review discusses the role of exopolysaccharide-producing plant growth-promoting bacteria in modulating plant growth and development in plants and alleviating extreme abiotic stress condition. The review suggests exploring the potential of EPS-producing bacteria for multiple abiotic stress management strategies.
Keywords: Exopolysaccharides (EPS); abiotic stress; biofilm; drought; metal; salinity.