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The Secret Life of Underground Microbes: Plant Root Microbiomes Rule the World

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We often ignore what we cannot see, and yet organisms below the soil's surface play a vital role in plant functions and ecosystem well-being. These microbes can influence a plant's genetic structure, its health, and its interactions with other plants. A new series of articles in a Special Section in the American Journal of Botany on Rhizosphere Interactions: The Root Microbiome explores how root microbiomes influence plants across multiple scales -- from cellular, bacterial, and whole plant levels to community and ecosystem levels.

Plants are teeming with microbial organisms; not only are they in plant cells, but they are also found in between the cells (intercellular spaces) and in a small layer of soil surrounding plant roots. This area of soil, the rhizosphere, is an especially important zone of activity as it contains microbes that are intricately involved in the molecular, genetic, and ecological components of a plant, and it also influences plant community composition and soil health. The importance of this "unseen majority" led Marnie Rout (University of North Texas Health Science Center) and Darlene Southworth (Southern Oregon University) to gather together a series of works highlighting some of the significant advances that have been made in the last decade in understanding the integrative and far-reaching impacts plant root microbiomes have not only on the organisms themselves, but globally as well.

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