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Production of Acyl-Homoserine Lactone Quorum-Sensing Signals by Gram-Negative Plant-Associated Bacteria

November 1998 , Volume 11 , Number  11
Pages  1,119 - 1,129

Chung Cha , 1 Ping Gao , 1 Yu-Ching Chen , 1 Paul D. Shaw , 1 and Stephen K. Farrand 1 , 2

1Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana 61801, U.S.A.

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Accepted 16 July 1998.

Many gram-negative bacteria regulate expression of specialized gene sets in response to population density. This regulatory mechanism, called autoinduction or quorumsensing, is based on the production by the bacteria of a small, diffusible signal molecule called the autoinducer. In the most well-studied systems the autoinducers are N-acylated derivatives of l-homoserine lactone (acyl-HSL). Signal specificity is conferred by the length, and the nature of the substitution at C-3, of the acyl side-chain. We evaluated four acyl-HSL bioreporters, based on tra of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, lux of Vibrio fischeri, las of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and pigment production by Chromobacterium violaceum, for their ability to detect sets of 3-oxo acyl-HSLs, 3-hydroxy acyl-HSLs, and alkanoyl-HSLs with chain lengths ranging from C4 to C12. The traG::lacZ fusion reporter from the A. tumefaciens Ti plasmid was the single most sensitive and versatile detector of the four. Using this reporter, we screened 106 isolates representing seven genera of bacteria that associate with plants. Most of the Agrobacterium, Rhizobium, and Pantoea isolates and about half of the Erwinia and Pseudomonas isolates gave positive reactions. Only a few isolates of Xanthomonas produced a detectable signal. We characterized the acyl-HSLs produced by a subset of the isolates by thin-layer chromatography. Among the pseudomonads and erwinias, most produced a single dominant activity chromatographing with the properties of N-(3-oxo-hexanoyl)-l-HSL. However, a few of the erwinias, and the P. fluorescens and Ralstonia solanacearum isolates, produced quite different signals, including 3-hydroxy forms, as well as active compounds that chromatographed with properties unlike any of our standards. The few positive xanthomonads, and almost all of the agrobacteria, produced small amounts of a compound with the chromatographic properties of N-(3-oxo-octanoyl)-l-HSL. Members of the genus Rhizobium showed the greatest diversity, with some producing as few as one and others producing as many as seven detectable signals. Several isolates produced extremely nonpolar compounds indicative of very long acyl side-chains. Production of these compounds suggests that quorum-sensing is common as a gene regulatory mechanism among gram-negative plant-associated bacteria.

© 1998 The American Phytopathological Society