Endophytic bacteria take the challenge to improve Cu phytoextraction by sunflower
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Endophytic bacteria from roots and crude seed extracts of a Cu-tolerant population of Agrostis capillaris were inoculated to a sunflower metal-tolerant mutant line, and their influence on Cu tolerance and phytoextraction was assessed using a Cu-contaminated soil series. Ten endophytic bacterial strains isolated from surface-sterilized A. capillaris roots were mixed to prepare the root endophyte inoculant (RE). In parallel, surface-sterilized seeds of A. capillaris were crushed in MgSO4 to prepare a crude seed extract containing seed endophytes (SE). An aliquot of this seed extract was filtered at 0.2 μm to obtain a bacterial cell-free seed extract (SEF). After surface sterilization, germinated sunflower seeds were separately treated with one of five modalities: no treatment (C), immersion in MgSO4 (CMg) or SEF solutions and inoculation with RE or SE. All plants were cultivated on a Cu-contaminated soil series (13–1020 mg Cu kg−1). Cultivable RE strains were mostly members of the Pseudomonas genera, and one strain was closely related to Labrys sp. The cultivable SE strains belonged mainly to the Bacillus genera and some members of the Rhodococcus genera. The treatment effects depended on the soil Cu concentration. Both SE and SEF plants had a higher Cu tolerance in the 13–517 mg Cu kg−1 soil range as reflected by increased shoot and root DW yields compared to control plants. This was accompanied by a slight decrease in shoot Cu concentration and increase in root Cu concentration. Shoot and root DW yields were more promoted by SE than SEF in the 13–114 mg Cu kg−1 soil range, which could reflect the influence of seed-located bacterial endophytes. At intermediate soil Cu (416–818 mg Cu kg−1 soil), the RE and CMg plants had lower shoot Cu concentrations than the control, SE and SEF plants. At high total soil Cu (617–1020 mg Cu kg−1), root DW yield of RE plants slightly increased and their root Cu concentration rose by up to 1.9-fold. In terms of phytoextraction efficiency, shoot Cu removal was increased for sunflower plants inoculated with crude and bacterial cell-free seed extracts by 1.3- to 2.2-fold in the 13–416 mg Cu kg−1 soil range. Such increase was mainly driven by an enhanced shoot DW yield. The number and distribution of endophytic bacteria in the harvested sunflower tissues must be further examined.