These multifarious modulations in plants were related to stress tolerance mechanisms. Drought suppressed growth of rice plants but inoculation with Trichoderma, Pseudomonas and their combination minimized the impact of watering regime. Induced PAL gene expression and enzyme activity due to microbial inoculation led to increased accumulation of polyphenolics in plants. Enhanced antioxidant concentration of polyphenolics from microbe inoculated and drought challenged plants showed substantially high values of DPPH, ABTS, Fe-ion reducing power and Fe-ion chelation activity, which established the role of polyphenolic extract as free radical scavengers. Activation of superoxide dismutase that catalyzes superoxide (O2-) and leads to the accumulation of H2O2 was linked with the hypersensitive cell death response in leaves. Microbial inoculation in plants enhanced activity of peroxidase, ascorbate peroxidase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase enzymes. This has further contributed in reducing ROS burden in plants. Genes of key metabolic pathways including phenylpropanoid (PAL), superoxide dismutation (SODs), H2O2 peroxidation (APX, PO) and oxidative defense response (CAT) were over-expressed due to microbial inoculation. Enhanced expression of OSPiP linked to less-water permeability, drought-adaptation gene DHN and dehydration related stress inducible DREB gene in rice inoculated with microbial inoculants after drought challenge was also reported. The impact of Pseudomonas on gene expression was consistently remained the most prominent. These findings suggested that microbial inoculation directly caused over-expression of genes linked with defense processes in plants challenged with drought stress. Enhanced enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidant reactions that helped in minimizing antioxidative load, were the repercussions of enhanced gene expression in microbe inoculated plants. These mechanisms contributed strongly towards stress mitigation. The study demonstrated that microbial inoculants were successful in improving intrinsic biochemical and molecular capabilities of rice plants under stress. Results encouraged us to advocate that the practice of growing plants with microbial inoculants may find strategic place in raising crops under abiotic stressed environments.
Figure 1: Generation of H2O2 in plants grown with microbial inoculation and post-drought stress (a) and in situ hypersensitive response in leaves (b). A & E: NI (non-inoculated); B & F: Trichoderma inoculation (Th); C & G: Pseudomonas inoculation (Pf); D & H: combined inoculation (Th + Pf). Level of significance was determined by two-way ANOVA. n = 6. Data are mean ± SEM.