A metabolomic landscape of maize plants treated with a microbial biostimulant under well-watered and drought conditions

Lerato Nephali, Venessa Moodley, Lizelle Piater, Paul Steenkamp, Nombuso Buthelezi, Ian Dubery, Karl Burgess, Johan Huyser, Fidele Tugizimana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microbial plant biostimulants have been successfully applied to improve plant growth, stress resilience and productivity. However, the mechanisms of action of biostimulants are still enigmatic, which is the main bottleneck for the fully realization and implementation of biostimulants into the agricultural industry. Here, we report the elucidation of a global metabolic landscape of maize (Zea mays L) leaves in response to a microbial biostimulant, under well-watered and drought conditions. The study reveals that the increased pool of tricarboxylic acid (TCA) intermediates, alterations in amino acid levels and differential changes in phenolics and lipids are key metabolic signatures induced by the application of the microbial-based biostimulant. These reconfigurations of metabolism gravitate toward growth-promotion and defense preconditioning of the plant. Furthermore, the application of microbial biostimulant conferred enhanced drought resilience to maize plants via altering key metabolic pathways involved in drought resistance mechanisms such as the redox homeostasis, strengthening of the plant cell wall, osmoregulation, energy production and membrane remodeling. For the first time, we show key molecular events, metabolic reprogramming, activated by a microbial biostimulant for plant growth promotion and defense priming. Thus, these elucidated metabolomic insights contribute to ongoing efforts in decoding modes of action of biostimulants and generating fundamental scientific knowledgebase that is necessary for the development of the plant biostimulants industry, for sustainable food security.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in plant science
Issue number676632
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2021


  • plant biostimulants
  • PGPR
  • priming
  • metabolomics
  • maize
  • drought stress
  • microbial biostimulants


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