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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Current Opinion in Plant Biology
Volume (Issue) 32
Page(s) 62 - 68
Title of proceedings Current Opinion in Plant Biology
DOI 10.1016/j.pbi.2016.06.017


A recent boom in research on belowground ecology is rapidly revealing a multitude of fascinating interactions, in particular in the rhizosphere. Many of these interactions are mediated by photo-assimilates that are excreted by plant roots. Root exudates are not mere waste products, but serve numerous functions to control abiotic and biotic processes. These functions range from changing the chemical and physical properties of the soil, inhibiting the growth of competing plants, combatting herbivores, and regulating the microbial community. Particularly intriguing are root-released compounds that have evolved to serve mutualistic interactions with soil-dwelling organisms. These mutually beneficial plant- mediated signals are not only of fundamental ecological interest, but also exceedingly important from an agronomical perspective. Here, we attempt to provide an overview of the plant-produced compounds that have so far been implicated in mutualistic interactions. We propose that these mutualistic signals may have evolved from chemical defenses and we point out that they can be (mis)used by specialized pathogens and herbivores. We speculate that many more signals and interactions remain to be uncovered and that a good understanding of the mechanisms and ecological implications can be the basis for exploitation and manipulation of the signals for crop improvement and protection.