, Volume 109, Issue 9, pp 893-899

Characterization of Pectolytic Erwinias as Highly Sophisticated Pathogens of plants

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Abstract

Erwinia carotovora and Erwinia chrysanthemi are the two most important soft rotting bacteria of commercially-grown plants. They are genetically diverse as is evident from polymorphisms in the pel and recA genes as well as in rrn, the ribsomal gene cluster. Subpopulations grouped into biovars, pathovars, or subspecies associated with various hosts and in different geographic regions suggest specialization in host preference and/or survival in diverse environments. Previous characterization of the pectolytic erwinias as opportunistic pathogens is being replaced by a realization that this group of bacteria exhibits a sophisticated repertoire of pathogenicity and virulence genes and regulators. The presence of an entire hrp gene cluster and associated type III secretion system, and global regulators which regulate virulence determinants such as exoenzyme production and motility, attest to a highly specialized pathogen. The fact that production of extracellular plant cell wall-degrading enzymes are coordinately activated by the diffusible signal molecule N-acyl-homoserine lactone in a population density-dependent manner may explain the occurrence of pectolytic erwinia in asymptomatic plant tissues. Transgenic plants expressing bacterial quorum-sensing signal molecules modulate this sensory system and exhibit resistance to soft rot infection. The pectolytic erwinias, being significant plant pathogens that are neither of quarantine concern nor a human health hazard while readily isolated from field sources, make an ideal model for investigating the genetic basis of plant pathogenesis and environmental fitness.