Saponins are the group of plant specialized metabolites which are widely distributed in angiosperm plants and have various biological activities. The present study focused on a-tomatine, a major saponin present in tissues of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants. a-Tomatine is responsible for defense against plant pathogens and herbivores, but its biological function in the rhizosphere remains unknown. Secretion of tomatine was higher at the early growth than the green-fruit stage in hydroponically grown plants, and the concentration of tomatine in the rhizosphere of field-grown plants was higher than that of the bulk soil at all growth stages. The effects of tomatine and its aglycone tomatidine on the bacterial communities in the soil were evaluated in vitro, revealing that both compounds influenced the microbiome in a concentration-dependent manner. Numerous bacterial families were influenced in tomatine/tomatidine-treated soil as well as in the tomato rhizosphere. Sphingomonadaceae species, which are commonly observed and enriched in tomato rhizospheres in the fields, were also enriched in tomatine- and tomatidine-treated soils. Moreover, a jasmonate-responsive ETHYLENE RESPONSE FACTOR 4 mutant associated with low tomatine production caused the root-associated bacterial communities to change with a reduced abundance of Sphingomonadaceae. Taken together, our results highlight the role of tomatine in shaping the bacterial communities of the rhizosphere and suggest additional functions of tomatine in belowground biological communication.
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