Insect herbivores possess a diverse and abundant gut microbiota that may influence plant growth in nature. The application of plant beneficial bacteria to improve agricultural production and soil quality has long been of interest. Thus, these insect-associated microbiota have the potential to be developed into effective bio-fertilizers. The bacterium, Enterobacter ludwigii, was isolated from the regurgitant of field-collected tomato fruitworm, Helicoverpa zea. The bacterium can be secreted by the insect onto tomato seeds during fruit feeding and is also commonly found in the soil. We applied E. ludwigii to germinated tomato seeds and measured tomato plant growth and productivity under controlled greenhouse conditions. Since there are often trade-offs between plant growth and plant defenses, we examined whether the E. ludwigii-mediated faster growth corresponds with weaker anti-herbivore defenses. When E. ludwigii was applied to germinated tomato seeds, the plants exhibited faster root, shoot and hypocotyl growth, and produced more fruits and seeds than untreated control plants. The plants treated with bacteria exhibited the same activity levels of two key enzymes involved in anti-herbivore defenses, polyphenol oxidase and peroxidase, and induced the same levels of mortality and growth inhibition in H. zea larvae as untreated plants. Thus, our results demonstrate that the application of E. ludwigii to seeds can promote tomato plant growth and yield without compromising anti-herbivore defenses.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Insect Science