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Transgenic Plants Producing the Bacterial Pheromone N-Acyl-Homoserine Lactone Exhibit Enhanced Resistance to the Bacterial Phytopathogen Erwinia carotovora

September 2001 , Volume 14 , Number  9
Pages  1,035 - 1,042

Andres Mäe , 1 Marcos Montesano , 2 Viia Koiv , 1 and E. Tapio Palva 2 , 3

1Department of Genetics, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University; Estonian Biocenter, Tartu, Estonia; 2Department of Biosciences, Division of Genetics, and 3Institute of Biotechnology, Viikki Biocenter, University of Helsinki, Helsinki FIN-00014, Finland

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Accepted 11 May 2001.

Bacterial pheromones, mainly different homoserine lactones, are central to a number of bacterial signaling processes, including those involved in plant pathogenicity. We previously demonstrated that N-oxoacyl-homoserine lactone (OHL) is essential for quorum sensing in the soft-rot phytopathogen Erwinia carotovora. In this pathogen, OHL controls the coordinate activation of genes encoding the main virulence determinants, extracellular plant cell wall degrading enzymes (PCWDEs), in a cell density-dependent manner. We suggest that E. carotovora employ quorum sensing to avoid the premature production of PCWDEs and subsequent activation of plant defense responses. To test whether modulating this sensory system would affect the outcome of a plant-pathogen interaction, we generated transgenic tobacco, producing OHL. This was accomplished by ectopic expression in tobacco of the E. carotovora gene expI, which is responsible for OHL biosynthesis. We show that expI-positive transgenic tobacco lines produced the active pheromone and partially complemented the avirulent phenotype of expI mutants. The OHL-producing tobacco lines exhibited enhanced resistance to infection by wild-type E. carotovora. The results were confirmed by exogenous addition of OHL to wild-type plants, which also resulted in increased resistance to E. carotovora.

Additional keywords: autoinducer, elicitor, systemic resistance.

© 2001 The American Phytopathological Society