Article Highlight | 11-Aug-2022

Discovery of the interactions between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi

Nanjing Agricultural University The Academy of Science

The arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis (AMS) is one of the most ancient and broadly occurring mutualistic associations between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). This intimate relationship improves plant mineral nutrient acquisition, which potentially enhances crop yield. In addition, AMS can increase plant tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses. AMS also contributes to many ecosystem functions, improving soil aggregation, lowering fertilizer requirements, and reducing nutrient losses. Over the past two decades, several genes involved in AMS have been identified based on changes in symbiosis phenotypes in gene knockout or knockdown mutants. However, the relationship between plant SSPs and AMS remains largely unknown.

Recently, scientists from the University of Tennessee established a computational pipeline for genome-wide prediction of SSPs in plants and identified a number of plant SSP candidates that are potentially involved in AMS. Their comparative analysis revealed convergent changes in SSP gene expression and gene regulatory elements between monocot and eudicot species, as well as diversification of protein structure between AMF-inducible SSPs and their closely related homologs, suggesting that SSPs may have played an important role in the evolution of AMS in plants.

“Our results indicate that convergence in SSP sequences and gene expression induced by fungi is related to convergent emergence of AMS in diverse plant species, and this is also the first plant kingdom-wide analysis on SSP,” Dr. Yang said. In summary, the SSP candidates identified in this study lay the foundation for the experimental characterization of AMS-related genes to gain a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie the interactions between plants and AMF.






Xiao-Li Hu1,2, Jin Zhang3, Rakesh Kaundal4, Raghav Kataria4, Jesse L. Labbé2, Julie C. Mitchell2, Timothy J. Tschaplinski2,5, Gerald A. Tuskan2,5, Zong-Ming (Max) Cheng1,6,* and Xiaohan Yang1,2,5,*


1 Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA

2 Biosciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA

3 State Key Laboratory of Subtropical Silviculture, Zhejiang A&F University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang 311300, China

4 Department of Plants, Soils and Climate, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322, USA

5 The Center for Bioenergy Innovation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA

6 College of Horticulture, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, Jiangsu 210095 China

About Dr. Xiaohan Yang and Dr. Zong-Ming (Max) Cheng

Dr. Xiaohan Yang is a Senior Scientist in the Synthetic Biology Group in the Biosciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). He obtained his Ph.D. degree (Horticulture/Plant Molecular Biology/Plant Breeding) from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. He is editor-in-chief of BioDesign Research ( His research covers plant genome editing, plant metabolic pathway engineering, plant-based biosensors, synthetic biology tool development, secure biosystems design, and plant genomics, with a focus on bioenergy crops and plant-microbe interactions to solve renewable energy and environmental challenges. He won an R&D 100 Award in 2018.


Dr. Zong-Ming (Max) Cheng is the Editor-in-Chief of Horticulture Research and also a Joint Professor at Nanjing Agricultural University and University of Tennessee. Dr. Cheng received his BS in Fruit Science from Nanjing Agricultural University in 1982 and his MS (in 1988) and Ph.D. (in 1991) from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, USA. Over the last 20 years, Dr. Cheng has been working on genetics, breeding, biotechnology, and genomics of fruit, ornamental, and forest trees at North Dakota State University (from November 1990 to July 2001), at University of Tennessee (August 2001 to the present), and jointly at Nanjing Agricultural University (September 2009 to the present). Dr. Cheng has (co)authored about 70 refereed publications, and his research has been funded by the USDA, DOE/CPBR, EPA/CPBR, NSF, and other public and industry sources. Dr. Cheng currently serves as an Associate Editor, Consulting Editor, and Guest Editor-in-Chief for several professional journals. Dr. Cheng was elected a Fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Sciences in 2012.

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