Exploring the role of mobile genetic elements in shaping plant–bacterial interactions for sustainable agriculture and ecosystem health

Vaheesan Rajabal*, Timothy M. Ghaly, Eleonora Egidi, Mingjing Ke, Anahit Penesyan, Qin Qi, Michael R. Gillings, Sasha G. Tetu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Societal Impact Statement: Plants and bacteria interact in complex ways that are crucial to the health and productivity of native vegetation and croplands. While the range of characterised plant-beneficial bacterial traits continues to grow, key questions remain regarding the distribution and mobility of genes associated with these traits. This work explores the diversity of mobile genetic elements carried by bacteria associated with plant root surfaces, assessing their capacity to help shape plant–bacterial interactions. The significance of this work lies in the potential to contribute to new strategies for enhancing plant health, promoting sustainable agriculture and managing plant diseases in an era when we must respond to environmental change. 


• Integrons are gene capture and expression systems that contribute to bacterial adaptation. Integron research has mainly focused on the role that these elements play in spreading antimicrobial resistance. However, their contribution to niche adaptation is potentially much broader because integrons can sample the vast repertoire of diverse functions encoded by integron gene cassettes. Integrons and gene cassettes have been identified in many bacterial lineages residing in soil and water across varied ecosystems, but there has been little investigation of integrons in plant-associated bacteria. 

• Bacteria and plants have complex, dynamic relationships that influence plant health and productivity. To investigate whether integrons contribute to adaptative processes in plant microbiomes, we examined gene cassette and microbial taxonomic profiles in rhizoplanes of four important crop species grown under controlled glasshouse conditions. We identified 38,546 unique gene cassettes, including elements carrying genes associated with antibiotic resistance, type II toxin–antitoxin systems and genes with putative functions associated with plant growth promotion, along with a larger set encoding genes of unknown functions. 

• Rhizoplane microbiomes of different plant species showed more similarity in their community composition profiles than in their gene cassette profiles, with complex and distinct suites of gene cassettes associated with each plant species, suggesting that gene cassettes might have a role in specific plant–bacterial interactions. 

• We show that rhizoplane microbiomes carry diverse integron gene cassettes that could play a role in establishing and maintaining rhizoplane communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-420
Number of pages13
JournalPlants People Planet
Issue number2
Early online date30 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • genome evolution
  • horizontal gene transfer (HGT)
  • integrons
  • niche adaptation
  • plant microbiome
  • rhizoplane
  • rhizosphere


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