One of the major challenges for agricultural research in the 21st century is to increase crop productivity to meet the growing demand for food and feed. Biotic (e.g. plant pathogens) and abiotic stresses (e.g. soil salinity) have detrimental effects on agricultural productivity, with yield losses being as high as 60% for major crops such as barley, corn, potatoes, sorghum, soybean and wheat, especially in semi-arid regions such as Saudi Arabia. Plant growth promoting bacteria isolated from pioneer desert plants could serve as an eco-friendly, sustainable solution for improving plant growth, stress tolerance and health. In this dissertation, culture-independent amplicon sequencing of bacterial communities revealed how native desert plants influence their surrounding bacterial communities in a phylogeny-dependent manner. By culture-dependent isolation of the plant endosphere compartments and a number of bioassays, more than a hundred bacterial isolates with various biochemical properties, such as nutrient acquisition, hormone production and growth under stress conditions were obtained. From this collection, five phylogenetically diverse bacterial strains were able to promote the growth of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana under salinity stress conditions in a common mechanism of inducing transcriptional changes of tissue-specific ion transporters and lowering Na+/K+ ratios in the shoots. By combining a number of in vitro bioassays, plant phenotyping and volatile-mediated inhibition assays with next-generation sequencing technology, gas chromatography–mass spectrometry and bioinformatics tools, a candidate strain was presented as a multi-stress tolerance promoting bacterium with potential use in agriculture. Since recent research showed the importance of microbial partners for enhancing the growth and health of plants, a review of the different factors influencing plant-associated microbial communities is presented and a framework for the successful application of microbial inoculants in agriculture is proposed. The presented work demonstrates a holistic approach for tackling agricultural challenges using microbial inoculants from desert plants by combining culturomics, phenomics, genomics and transcriptomics. Microbial inoculants are promising tools for studying abiotic stress tolerance mechanisms in plants, and they provide an eco-friendly solution for increasing crop yield in arid and semi-arid regions, especially in light of a dramatically growing human population and detrimental effects of global warming and climate change.
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|KAUST Research Repository