Analysis of 16S rRNA and mxaF genes revealing insights into Methylobacterium niche-specific plant association
The genus Methylobacterium comprises pink-pigmented facultative methylotrophic (PPFM) bacteria, known to be an important plant-associated bacterial group. Species of this group, described as plant-nodulating, have the dual capacity of producing cytokinin and enzymes, such as pectinase and cellulase, involved in systemic resistance induction and nitrogen fixation under specific plant environmental conditions. The aim hereby was to evaluate the phylogenetic distribution of Methylobacterium spp. isolates from different host plants. Thus, a comparative analysis between sequences from structural (16S rRNA) and functional mxaF (which codifies for a subunit of the enzyme methanol dehydrogenase) ubiquitous genes, was undertaken. Notably, some Methylobacterium spp. isolates are generalists through colonizing more than one host plant, whereas others are exclusively found in certain specific plant-species. Congruency between phylogeny and specific host inhabitance was higher in the mxaF gene than in the 16S rRNA, a possible indication of function-based selection in this niche. Therefore, in a first stage, plant colonization by Methylobacterium spp. could represent generalist behavior, possibly related to microbial competition and adaptation to a plant environment. Otherwise, niche-specific colonization is apparently impelled by the host plant.