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Experimental Evolution in Plant-Microbe Systems: A Tool for Deciphering the Functioning and Evolution of Plant-Associated Microbial Communities

Beatriz Manriquez, Daniel Muller,
Published: 7 May 2021
Frontiers in Microbiology , Volume 12; doi:10.3389/fmicb.2021.619122

Abstract: In natural environments, microbial communities must constantly adapt to stressful environmental conditions. The genetic and phenotypic mechanisms underlying the adaptive response of microbial communities to new (and often complex) environments can be tackled with a combination of experimental evolution and next generation sequencing. This combination allows to analyse the real-time evolution of microbial populations in response to imposed environmental factors or during the interaction with a host, by screening for phenotypic and genotypic changes over a multitude of identical experimental cycles. Experimental evolution (EE) coupled with comparative genomics has indeed facilitated the monitoring of bacterial genetic evolution and the understanding of adaptive evolution processes. Basically, EE studies had long been done on single strains, allowing to reveal the dynamics and genetic targets of natural selection and to uncover the correlation between genetic and phenotypic adaptive changes. However, species are always evolving in relation with other species and have to adapt not only to the environment itself but also to the biotic environment dynamically shaped by the other species. Nowadays, there is a growing interest to apply EE on microbial communities evolving under natural environments. In this paper, we provide a non-exhaustive review of microbial EE studies done with systems of increasing complexity (from single species, to synthetic communities and natural communities) and with a particular focus on studies between plants and plant-associated microorganisms. We highlight some of the mechanisms controlling the functioning of microbial species and their adaptive responses to environment changes and emphasize the importance of considering bacterial communities and complex environments in EE studies.
Keywords: interaction network / microbiota / Synthetic community / holobiont / evolutionary adaptation

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