Soils suppressive to soilborne pathogens have been identified worldwide for almost 60 years and attributed mainly to suppressive or antagonistic microorganisms. Rather than identifying, testing and applying potential biocontrol agents in an inundative fashion, research into suppressive soils has attempted to understand how indigenous microbiomes can reduce disease, even in the presence of the pathogen, susceptible host, and favorable environment. Recent advances in next-generation sequencing of microbiomes have provided new tools to reexamine and further characterize the nature of these soils. Two general types of suppression have been described: specific and general suppression, and theories have been developed around these two models. In this review, we will present three examples of currently-studied model systems with features representative of specific and general suppressiveness: suppression to take-all (Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici), Rhizoctonia bare patch of wheat (Rhizoctonia solani AG-8), and Streptomyces. To compare and contrast the two models of general versus specific suppression, we propose a number of hypotheses about the nature and ecology of microbial populations and communities of suppressive soils. We outline the potential and limitations of new molecular techniques that can provide novel ways of testing these hypotheses. Finally, we consider how this greater understanding of the phytobiome can facilitate sustainable disease management in agriculture by harnessing the potential of indigenous soil microbes.
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