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POSTERS: Biochemistry and cell biology

Cell-length heterogeneity: a population-level solution to growth/virulence trade-offs in the plant pathogen Dickeya dadantii
Zhouqi Cui - The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Quan Zeng- The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station

Necrotrophic plant pathogens acquire nutrients from dead plant cells, which requires the disintegration of the plant cell wall and tissue structures by the pathogen. Infected plants lose tissue integrity as a result, exposing the nutrient rich, decayed tissues to the environment. One challenge for the necrotrophs to successfully cause secondary infection is to effectively utilize nutrients released from hosts towards building up a large population before other saprophytes come. In this study, we observed that the necrotrophic pathogen Dickeya dadantii exhibited heterogeneity in bacterial cell length in an isogenic population during infection of potato tuber. While some cells were regular rod-shape (<10?m), the rest elongated into filamentous cells (>10?m). Short cells expressed all necessary virulence factors and motility, whereas filamentous cells did not engage in virulence, were non-mobile and more sensitive to environmental stress. However, compared to the short cells, the filamentous cells displayed upregulated metabolic genes and increased growth, which may benefit the pathogens to build up a large population necessary for the secondary infection. The segregation of the two subpopulations was dependent on differential expression of the alarmone guanosine tetraphosphate (ppGpp). When exposed to fresh tuber tissues, filamentous cells quickly transformed to short virulent cells. The pathogen adaptation of cell length heterogeneity identified here presents a model for how some necrotrophs balance virulence and vegetative growth to maximize fitness during infection.