Colonization-defective, transposon-induced mutants of the efficient root colonizer Pseudomonas fluorescens WCS365 were identified with a gnotobiotic system. Most mutants were impaired in known colonization traits, i.e., prototrophy for amino acids, motility, and synthesis of the O-antigen of LPS (lipopolysaccharide). Mutants lacking the O-antigen of LPS were impaired in both colonization and competitive growth whereas one mutant (PCL1205) with a shorter O-antigen chain was defective only in colonization ability, suggesting a role for the intact O-antigen of LPS in colonization. Eight competitive colonization mutants that were not defective in the above-mentioned traits colonized the tomato root tip well when inoculated alone, but were defective in competitive root colonization of tomato, radish, and wheat, indicating they contained mutations affecting host range. One of these eight mutants (PCL1201) was further characterized and contains a mutation in a gene that shows homology to the Escherichia coli nuo4 gene, which encodes a subunit of one of two known NADH:ubiquinone oxidoreductases. Competition experiments in an oxygen-poor medium between mutant PCL1201 and its parental strain showed a decreased growth rate of mutant PCL1201. The requirement of the nuo4 gene homolog for optimal growth under conditions of oxygen limitation suggests that the root-tip environment is micro-aerobic. A mutant characterized by a slow growth rate (PCL1216) was analyzed further and contained a mutation in a gene with similarity to the E. coli HtrB protein, a lauroyl transferase that functions in lipid A biosynthesis.
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