Alterations of endophytic microbial community function in Spartina alterniflora as a result of crude oil exposure

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The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster remains one of the largest oil spills in history. This event caused significant damage to coastal ecosystems, the full extent of which has yet to be fully determined. Crude oil contains toxic heavy metals and substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are detrimental to some microbial species and may be used as food and energy resources by others. As a result, oil spills have the potential to cause significant shifts in microbial communities. This study assessed the impact of oil contamination on the function of endophytic microbial communities associated with saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). Soil samples were collected from two locations in coastal Louisiana, USA: one severely affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and one relatively unaffected location. Spartina alterniflora seedlings were grown in both soil samples in greenhouses, and GeoChip 5.0 was used to evaluate the endophytic microbial metatranscriptome shifts in response to host plant oil exposure. Oil exposure was associated with significant shifts in microbial gene expression in functional categories related to carbon cycling, virulence, metal homeostasis, organic remediation, and phosphorus utilization. Notably, significant increases in expression were observed in genes related to metal detoxification with the exception of chromium, and both significant increases and decreases in expression were observed in functional gene subcategories related to hydrocarbon metabolism. These findings show that host oil exposure elicits multiple changes in gene expression from their endophytic microbial communities, producing effects that may potentially impact host plant fitness.

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