Plants are protected from pathogens not only by their own immunity but often also by colonizing commensal microbes. In Arabidopsis thaliana, a group of cryptically pathogenic Pseudomonas strains often dominates local populations. This group coexists in nature with commensal Pseudomonas strains that can blunt the deleterious effects of the pathogens in the laboratory. We have investigated the interaction between one of the Pseudomonas pathogens and 99 naturally co-occurring commensals, finding plant protection to be common among non-pathogenic Pseudomonas. While protective ability is enriched in one specific lineage, there is also a substantial variation for this trait among isolates of this lineage. These functional differences do not align with core-genome phylogenies, suggesting repeated gene inactivation or loss as causal. Using genome-wide association, we discovered that different bacterial genes are linked to plant protection in each lineage. We validated a protective role of several lineage-specific genes by gene inactivation, highlighting iron acquisition and biofilm formation as prominent mechanisms of plant protection in this Pseudomonas lineage. Collectively, our work illustrates the importance of functional redundancy in plant protective traits across an important group of commensal bacteria.
© 2021. The Author(s).