Multiple mutualist effects on genomewide expression in the tripartite association between Medicago truncatula, nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi

Michelle Afkhami, John R. Stinchcombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations


While all species interact with multiple mutualists, the fitness consequences and molecular mechanisms underlying these interactions remain largely unknown. We combined factorial ecological experiments with genomewide expression analyses to examine the phenotypic and transcriptomic responses of model legume Medicago truncatula to rhizobia and mycorrhizal fungi. We found synergistic effects of these mutualists on plant performance and examined unique features of plant gene expression responses to multiple mutualists. There were genomewide signatures of mutualists and multiple mutualists on expression, with partners often affecting unique sets of genes. Mycorrhizal fungi had stronger effects on plant expression than rhizobia, with 70% of differentially expressed genes affected by fungi. Fungal and bacterial mutualists had joint effects on 10% of differentially expressed genes, including unexpected, nonadditive effects on some genes with important functions such as nutrient metabolism. For a subset of genes, interacting with multiple mutualists even led to reversals in the direction of expression (shifts from up to downregulation) compared to interacting with single mutualists. Rhizobia also affected the expression of several mycorrhizal genes, including those involved in nutrient transfer to host plants, indicating that partner species can also impact each other's molecular phenotypes. Collectively, these data illustrate the diverse molecular mechanisms and transcriptional responses associated with the synergistic benefits of multiple mutualists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4946-4962
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016



  • legume
  • MME
  • rhizobia
  • RNA-Seq
  • symbiosis
  • transcriptome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

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