Chemical communication in the rhizosphere of plants (CHEMCOMRHIZO)

In CHEMCOMRHIZO we study the use by plants of metabolites to communicate with other organisms in their rhizosphere.
CHEMCOMRHIZO is divided into two main categories of rhizosphere signaling molecules: strigolactones and nematode hatching stimulants. Within these main parts we are looking at biosynthesis and perception.
An exciting example of rhizosphere signalling molecules are the strigolactones. These are used by the friends of plants, the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi as well as other members of the root microbiome, for host detection but also by their enemies, root parasitic plants. Furthermore, they have an endogenous signalling function, as a plant hormone that regulates shoot branching and root architecture. I postulated that this dual positive and negative signalling role of the strigolactones is the result of a paradigm: enemies of plants recruit molecules that are essential to the plant as cues.

This paradigm has two important implications: 1) other plant-produced signalling molecules known to be abused by plant enemies likely have another, beneficial essential function in plants and 2) the involvement of multiple, positive and negative, biological functions exerts a selective pressure on these signalling molecules that results in the evolution of diversity in structure and biological specificity. For the strigolactones we are investigating implication 2): what is the biological relevance of the large structural diversity in the strigolactones. For implication 1) we are studying the nematode hatching stimulants. We address this using an innovative approach in a new area for the group by setting out to discover a new signalling role for plant parasitic cyst nematode hatching stimulants, with the microbiome being a plausible candidate. We do that by elucidating their biosynthesis and looking at the consequences of knocking out their production. In addition, also for the hatching stimulants we study how biological specificity is mediated by the creation of structural diversity and the concomitant changes in perception, in nematodes.

Together, the work should shed light on the significance of structural diversity in signalling molecules and the co-evolution of perception and could result in the discovery of a new class of signalling molecules in plants, perhaps signaling the microbiome. It may also provide the basis for biotechnological and agronomical applications to optimise colonisation by AM fungi and other microbiome members or to control plant development, and prevent parasitation by root parasitic plants and cyst nematodes

CHEMCOMRHIZO is divided into the following work packages:

WP 1. The chemistry of rhizosphere signalling
WP 2. Structural diversity in strigolactones
WP 2.1 Identification and characterisation of missing enzymes
WP 2.2 Specificity in strigolactone rhizosphere signalling
WP 3. Characterisation of hatching stimulant biosynthesis and function
WP 3.1 Identification and characterisation of hatching stimulant biosynthetic enzymes
WP 3.2 In planta signalling: effect of hatching stimulants on host physiology
WP 3.3 Ex planta signalling: hatching stimulant rhizosphere signalling
WP 4. Perception of rhizosphere signaling

Scientists involved in this project

Harro Bouwmeester
Suzanne Hoogstrate
Jurre Bleeker
Kristyna Flokova
Lemeng Dong
Mehran Rahimi
Anouk Zancarini
Yanting Wang
Lieke Vlaar
Alessandra Guerrieri
Bora Kim
Changsheng Li


  1. An improved strategy to analyse strigolactones in complex sample matrices using UHPLC–MS/MS

    Floková, K., Shimels, M., Andreo Jimenez, B. et al. An improved strategy to analyse strigolactones in complex sample matrices using UHPLC–MS/MS. Plant Methods 16, 125 (2020).

  2. The negative regulator SMAX1 controls mycorrhizal symbiosis and strigolactone biosynthesis in rice

    Choi, J., Lee, T., Cho, J. et al. The negative regulator SMAX1 controls mycorrhizal symbiosis and strigolactone biosynthesis in rice. Nat Commun 11, 2114 (2020).

  3. Science and application of strigolactones

    Aliche, E.B., Screpanti, C., De Mesmaeker, A., Munnik, T. and Bouwmeester, H.J. (2020), New Phytol, 227: 1001-1011.

  4. Plant host and drought shape the root associated fungal microbiome in rice

    Andreo-Jimenez B, Vandenkoornhuyse P, Lê Van A, Heutinck A, Duhamel M, Kadam N, Jagadish K, Ruyter-Spira C, Bouwmeester H. PeerJ. 2019 Sep 11;7:e7463. doi: 10.7717/peerj.7463. PMID: 31565550; PMCID: PMC6744933.

  5. Role and exploitation of underground chemical signaling in plants.

    Guerrieri A, Dong L, Bouwmeester HJ. Pest Manag Sci. 2019 Sep;75(9):2455-2463. doi: 10.1002/ps.5507. Epub 2019 Jul 8. PMID: 31166074; PMCID: PMC6771575.

  6. Strigolactones, a new plant hormone with promising features

    Bouwmeester, H., R. Fonne-Pfister, C. Screpanti. A. De Mesmaeker, 2019.  Angewandte Chemie International Edition

  7. A CLE-SUNN module regulates strigolactone content and fungal colonization in arbuscular mycorrhiza

    Müller, L.M., Flokova, K., Schnabel, E. et al. Nat. Plants 5, 933–939 (2019). doi:10.1038/s41477-019-0501-1

  8. Can witchweed be wiped out?

    Bouwmeester, H., 2018. Perspective: Science 362: 1248-1249

  9. Agrobacterium rhizogenes transformed calli of the holoparasitic plant Phelipanche ramosa maintain parasitic competence

    Dagmara Libiaková, Carolien Ruyter-Spira, Harro J. Bouwmeester, Radoslava Matusova, 2018.  Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture (PCTOC) (2018) 135:321–329

  10. Abscisic acid influences tillering by modulation of strigolactones in barley

    Wang, H., Chen, W., Eggert, K., Charnikhova, T., Bouwmeester, H., Schweizer, P., Hajirezaei, M.R., Seiler, C., Sreenivasulu, N., Von Wirén, N., Kuhlmann, M., 2018.  J Exp Bot 69: 3883-3898.

  11. Genetic variation in Sorghum bicolor strigolactones and their role in resistance against Striga hermonthica

    Nasreldin Mohemed; Tatsiana Charnikhova; Emilie F Fradin; Juriaan Rienstra; Abdelgabar G T Babiker; Harro J Bouwmeester, 2018. J Exp Bot 69, 2415–2430

  12. The interaction of strigolactones with abscisic acid during the drought response in rice

    Imran Haider; Beatriz Andreo-Jimenez; Mark Bruno; Andrea Bimbo; Kristýna Floková; Haneen Abuauf; Valentine Otang Ntui; Xiujie Guo; Tatsiana Charnikhova; Salim Al-Babili; Harro J Bouwmeester; Carolien Ruyter-Spira, 2018. J Exp Bot 69, 2403–2414

  13. Structural diversity in the strigolactones

    Yanting Wang, Harro J Bouwmeester, 2018.  J Exp Bot 69, 2219–2230

  14. The tomato MAX1 homolog, SlMAX1, is involved in the biosynthesis of tomato strigolactones from carlactone

    Zhang, Y., Cheng, X., Wang, Y., Díez-Simón, C., Flokova, K., Bimbo, A., Bouwmeester, H.J., Ruyter-Spira, C., 2018. New Phytol 219: 297-309

  15. Zeapyranolactone − A novel strigolactone from maize

    Charnikhova, T.V., Gaus, K., Lumbroso, A., Sanders, M., Vincken, J.-P., De Mesmaeker, A., Ruyter-Spira, C.P., Screpanti, C., Bouwmeester, H.J., 2018.  Phytochemistry Letters 24, 172-178

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