Author(s): Liu H, Kang Y, Genin S, Schell MA, Denny TP
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Abstract Twitching motility is a form of bacterial translocation over firm surfaces that requires retractile type IV pili. Microscopic colonies of Ralstonia solanacearum strains AW1, K60 and GMI1000 growing on the surface of a rich medium solidified with 1.6\% agar appeared to exhibit twitching motility, because early on they divided into motile 'rafts' of cells and later developed protruding 'spearheads' at their margins. Individual motile bacteria were observed only when they were embedded within masses of other cells. Varying degrees of motility were observed for 33 of 35 strains of R. solanacearum in a selected, diverse collection. Timing was more important than culture conditions for observing motility, because by the time wild-type colonies were easily visible by eye (about 48 h) this activity ceased and the spearheads were obscured by continued bacterial multiplication. In contrast, inactivation of PhcA, a transcriptional regulator that is essential for R. solanacearum to cause plant disease, resulted in colonies that continued to expand for at least several additional days. Multiple strains with mutations in regulatory genes important for virulence were tested, but all exhibited wild-type motility. Many of the genes required for production of functional type IV pili, and hence for twitching motility, are conserved among unrelated bacteria, and pilD, pilQ and pilT orthologues were identified in R. solanacearum. Colonies of R. solanacearum pilQ and pilT mutants did not develop spearheads or rafts, confirming that the movement of cells that had been observed was due to twitching motility. Compared to the wild-type parents, both pilQ and pilT mutants caused slower and less severe wilting on susceptible tomato plants. This is the first report of twitching motility by a phytopathogenic bacterium, and the first example where type IV pili appear to contribute significantly to plant pathogenesis.
This article was published in Microbiology
and referenced in Journal of Bacteriology & Parasitology