Lin, V. S., J. J. Rosnow, M. Y. McGrady, D. N. Smercina, J. R. Nuñez, R. S. Renslow, and J. J. Moran. 2020. Non-destructive spatial analysis of phosphatase activity and total protein distribution in the rhizosphere using a root blotting method. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 146:107820.
Phosphorus (P) is an essential macronutrient for plant growth, but bioavailable P in soils is often limited due to immobilization resulting from pH and geochemical interactions. Understanding the dynamics of P in soils and elucidating the mechanisms by which plants access P from their environment are critical to evaluating productivity, particularly in nutrient poor environments. Phosphorus from organic matter can act as a major source of P for organisms in soil systems. Phosphatases, enzymes that liberate inorganic P from organic sources, are produced by both plants and microbes and are considered one of the most active classes of enzymes in soil. We developed a root blotting method to spatially image phosphatase activity in the rhizosphere. Proteins from the rhizosphere are transferred to a nitrocellulose membrane while retaining their enzymatic activity and two-dimensional spatial distribution. Subsequent application of a fluorogenic phosphatase indicator, DDAO phosphate, enables visualization of the distribution of phosphatase activity in the sample. The proteins can then be fixed to the membrane and treated with SYPRO® Ruby Protein Blot Stain, a fluorescent total protein stain, allowing for visualization of total protein distribution. Taken together, the images of phosphatase activity and total protein localization can be mapped back to the root architecture and provide insight into factors affecting the spatial distribution of enzymatic activity and protein accumulation in the rhizosphere. Notably, this method can be applied to plants growing in rhizoboxes containing soil or soilless growth mixtures (e.g., sand or various potting mixes) and, because of the non-destructive nature of this approach, be performed over time to track changes. We anticipate that this fluorescent indicator imaging technique on root blots can be used in diverse plant-microbe-soil systems to better understand the role of phosphatases in P acquisition and soil P cycling.
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