Experimental evidence of microbial inheritance in plants and transmission routes from seed to phyllosphere and root

Ahmed Abdelfattah*, Michael Wisniewski, Leonardo Schena, Ayco J M Tack

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the environment is considered the primary origin of the plant microbiome, the potential role of seeds as a source of transmitting microorganisms has not received much attention. Here we tested the hypothesis that the plant microbiome is partially inherited through vertical transmission. An experimental culturing device was constructed to grow oak seedlings in a microbe-free environment while keeping belowground and aboveground tissues separated. The microbial communities associated with the acorn's embryo and pericarp and the developing seeding's phyllosphere and root systems were analysed using amplicon sequencing of fungal ITS and bacterial 16S rDNA. Results showed that the seed microbiome is diverse and non-randomly distributed within an acorn. The microbial composition of the phyllosphere was diverse and strongly resembled the composition found in the embryo, whereas the roots and pericarp each had a less diverse and distinct microbial community. Our findings demonstrate a high level of microbial diversity and spatial partitioning of the fungal and bacterial community within both seed and seedling, indicating inheritance, niche differentiation and divergent transmission routes for the establishment of root and phyllosphere communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2199-2214
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number4
Early online date11 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Microbiome
  • Vertical Transmission
  • Microbial ecology
  • Microbial inheritance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Microbiology


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