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An introduced crop plant is driving diversification of the virulent bacterial pathogen Erwinia tracheiphila

By Lori R. Shapiro, Joseph N. Paulson, Brian J Arnold, Erin D Scully, Olga Zhaxybayeva, Naomi Pierce, J. Rocha, Vanja Klepac-Ceraj, Kristina Holton, Roberto Kolter

Posted 12 Jun 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/345009 (published DOI: 10.1128/mbio.01307-18)

Erwinia tracheiphila is the causal agent of bacterial wilt of cucurbits, an economically important phytopathogen affecting few cultivated Cucurbitaceae host plant species in temperate Eastern North America. However, essentially nothing is known about E. tracheiphila population structure or genetic diversity. To address this shortcoming, a representative collection of 88 E. tracheiphila isolates was gathered from throughout its geographic range, and their genomes were sequenced. Phylogenomic analysis revealed three genetic clusters with distinct hrpT3SS virulence gene repertoires, host plant association patterns, and geographic distributions. The low genetic variation within each cluster suggests a recent population bottleneck followed by population expansion. We showed that in the field and greenhouse, cucumber (Cucumis sativus), which was introduced to North America by early Spanish conquistadors, is the most susceptible host plant species, and the only species susceptible to isolates from all three lineages. The establishment of large agricultural populations of highly susceptible C. sativus in temperate Eastern North America may have facilitated the original emergence of E. tracheiphila into cucurbit agro-ecosystems, and this introduced plant species may now be acting as a highly susceptible reservoir host. Our findings have broad implications for agricultural sustainability by drawing attention to how worldwide crop plant movement, agricultural intensification and locally unique environments may affect the emergence, evolution, and epidemic persistence of virulent microbial pathogens.

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