Leiden University, Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, Clusius Laboratory, Wassenaarseweg 64, 2333 AL Leiden, The Netherlands
To study colonization of the tomato root system, we previously have described a gnotobiotic quartz sand system, in which seedlings inoculated with one or two bacterial strains were allowed to grow. Here we present a scanning electron microscope description of the colonization of the tomato root system by Pseudomonas fluorescens biocontrol strain WCS365, with emphasis on spatial-temporal colonization patterns, based on an improved scanning electron microscopy procedure. Upon inoculation of the germinated seed, proliferation on the seed coat was observed for 2 to 3 days. Within 1 to 3 days, micro-colonies developed, mainly at the root base. Most micro-colonies were localized in junctions between epidermal root cells, whereas others were found in indented parts of the epidermal surface. Downward to the root tip, only single bacterial cells were found. Colonization progressed down the root, initially as single cells. A semi-transparent film appeared to enclose the root surface and micro-colonies present on the root. After 7 days, micro-colonies had developed at positions where only single cells were observed previously and distribution of the bacteria along the root varied from ≈106 CFU per cm of root near the root base to ≈102 to 103 CFU per cm of root near the root tip. Similar colonization patterns were found for the P. fluorescens biocontrol strains CHA0 and F113, and P. putida strain WCS358, as well as for four species that have repeatedly been isolated from tomato roots from a commercial tomato field near Granada, Spain. In contrast, four Rhizobium strains and one Acinetobacter radioresistens strain showed poor colonization and micro-colonies were not observed. Based on the described data, we present a model for colonization of the deeper root parts after seed inoculation by P. fluorescens biocontrol strains, in which single cells occasionally establish on a deeper root section where they sometimes develop into micro-colonies. We hypothesize that micro-colonies are the sites where the intracellular N-acyl-L-homoserine lactone concentration is sufficiently high to cause maximal production of biocontrol factors such as antibiotics and exoenzymes and that micro-colonies explain the relatively high conjugation frequency observed between pseudomonads in the rhizosphere.