Inoculation of hybrid poplar with the endophytic bacterium Enterobacter sp. 638 increases biomass but does not impact leaf level physiology
Endophytic bacteria have been shown to provide several advantages to their host, including enhanced growth. Inoculating biofuel species with endophytic bacteria is therefore an attractive option to increase the productivity of biofuel feedstocks. Here, we investigated the effect of inoculating hard wood cuttings of Populus deltoides Bartr. × Populus. nigra L. clone OP367 with Enterobacter sp. 638. After 17 weeks, plants inoculated with Enterobacter sp. 638 had 55% greater total biomass than un-inoculated control plants. Study of gas exchange and fluorescence in developing and mature leaves over a diurnal cycle and over a 5 week measurement campaign revealed no effects of inoculation on photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, photosynthetic water use efficiency or the maximum and operating efficiency of photosystem II. However, plants inoculated with Enterobacter sp. 638 had a canopy that was 39% larger than control plants indicating that the enhanced growth was fueled by increased leaf area, not by improved physiology. Leaf nitrogen content was determined at two stages over the 5 week measurement period. No effect of Enterobacter sp. 638 on leaf nitrogen content was found indicating that the larger plants were acquiring sufficient nitrogen. Enterobacter sp. 638 lacks the genes for N2 fixation, therefore the increased availability of nitrogen likely resulted from enhanced nitrogen acquisition by the 84% larger root system. These data show that Enterobacter sp. 638 has the potential to dramatically increase productivity in poplar. If fully realized in the production environment, these results indicate that an increase in the environmental and economic viability of poplar as a biofuel feedstock is possible when inoculated with endophytic bacteria like Enterobacter sp. 638.