Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an annual or biannual plant of the Asteraceae family that produces the hepaprotectant silymarin. In 2012, almost all milk thistle grown in the medicinal herbal garden of Jilin Agricultural University (Changchun, Jilin Province, China) exhibited symptoms of a previously undetected soft rot disease. Initial symptoms on stems appeared as tan, semitransparent, and water-soaked, then became sunken. The rotted lesions expanded rapidly and inner stem tissues were rotten with a foul smell. Eventually, the whole plant became black, then collapsed and died. Economic losses were significant as the seed crop was almost completely lost. Nine bacterial strains were isolated from tissues on nutrient agar (NA) medium after 36 h incubation at 28°C (1). Colonies of the nine strains were round, shiny, grayish white, and convex on NA medium. All strains were gram-negative, non-fluorescent, facultatively anaerobic, motile with two to four peritrichous flagella (observed by electron transmission microscope), positive for catalase and potato rot, but negative for oxidase and lecithinase. Strains grew at 37°C and in yeast salts broth medium containing 5% NaCl. They also liquefied gelatin. Strains were also negative for starch hydrolysis, malonate utilization, gas production from glucose, and indole. Results were variable for the Voges-Proskauer test and production of H2S from cysteine. The strains utilized esculin, fructose, D-galactose, D-glucose, inositol, lactose, D-mannose, D-mannitol, melibiose, rhamnose, salicin, trehalose, D-xylose, and cellobiose as carbon sources, but not melezitose, α-CH3-D-gluconate, sorbitol, or starch. Glycerol and maltose were only weakly utilized. Species identity was confirmed by molecular analysis of one of the strains, SMG-2. HPLC indicated a DNA GC content of 50.55%. The 16S rDNA sequence (KC207898) of SMG-2 showed 99% sequence identity to that of a Pectobacterium carotovorum subsp. carotovorum strain (DQ333384) and the sequence of the 16S-23S rDNA spacer region (KJ415377) was 95% similar to that of another known strain of P. carotovorum subsp. carotovorum (AF232684). Based on biochemical and physiological characteristics (2), as well as 16S rDNA gene analysis, the strains were identified as P. carotovorum subsp. carotovorum. Pathogenicity of the nine strains was evaluated by depositing a bacterial suspension (108 CFU/ml) on wounded stems (made with a disinfected razor blade) of 3-month-old milk thistle plants. Three plants were inoculated with each strain and three plants were treated with sterilized water as negative controls. Inoculated plants were covered with plastic bags for 24 h in a greenhouse at 28 to 30°C. After 48 h, the plants inoculated with bacteria showed similar symptoms as the naturally infected plants, while control plants remained symptomless. The symptoms observed on inoculated stems were rotten and sunken tissues. Bacteria were re-isolated from the inoculated plants and confirmed to be identical to the original strains based on 16S rDNA sequence analysis. To our knowledge, this is the first report of P. carotovorum subsp. carotovorum causing bacterial soft rot of milk thistle in Changchun, Jilin Province, China.
References: (1) Z. D. Fang. Research Method of Phytopathology. China Agricultural Press (In Chinese), 1998. (2) N. W. Schaad et al., eds. Laboratory Guide for Identification of Plant Pathogenic Bacteria, 3rd ed. American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN, 2001.