The role of soil microbes in plant sulphur nutrition.
Chemical and spectroscopic studies have shown that in agricultural soils most of the soil sulphur (>95%) is present as sulphate esters or as carbon-bonded sulphur (sulphonates or amino acid sulphur), rather than inorganic sulphate. Plant sulphur nutrition depends primarily on the uptake of inorganic sulphate. However, recent research has demonstrated that the sulphate ester and sulphonate-pools of soil sulphur are also plant-bioavailable, probably due to interconversion of carbon-bonded sulphur and sulphate ester-sulphur to inorganic sulphate by soil microbes. In addition to this mineralization of bound forms of sulphur, soil microbes are also responsible for the rapid immobilization of sulphate, first to sulphate esters and subsequently to carbon-bound sulphur. The rate of sulphur cycling depends on the microbial community present, and on its metabolic activity, though it is not yet known if specific microbial species or genera control this process. The genes involved in the mobilization of sulphonate- and sulphate ester-sulphur by one common rhizosphere bacterium, Pseudomonas putida, have been investigated. Mutants of this species that are unable to transform sulphate esters show reduced survival in the soil, indicating that sulphate esters are important for bacterial S-nutrition in this environment. P. putida S-313 mutants that cannot metabolize sulphonate-sulphur do not promote the growth of tomato plants as the wild-type strain does, suggesting that the ability to mobilize bound sulphur for plant nutrition is an important role of this species.