Leiden University, Institute of Biology, Wassenaarseweg 64, 2333 AL Leiden, The Netherlands
Pseudomonas fluorescens WCS365 is an excellent competitive colonizer of tomato root tips after bacterization of seed or seedlings. The strain controls tomato foot and root rot (TFRR) caused by the phytopathogenic fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. radicis-lycopersici. Under biocontrol conditions, fungal hyphae were shown to be colonized by WCS365 bacteria. Because chemotaxis is required for root colonization by WCS365 cells, we studied whether chemotaxis also is required for hyphae colonization. To that end, an in vitro assay was developed to study hyphae colonization by bacteria. The results indicated that cells of the cheA mutant FAJ2060 colonize hyphae less efficiently than cells of wild-type strain WCS365, when single strains were analyzed as well as when both strains were applied together. Cells of WCS365 show a chemotactic response toward the spent growth medium of F. oxysporum f. sp. radicis-lycopersici, but those of its cheA mutant, FAJ2060, did not. Fusaric acid, a secondary metabolite secreted by Fusarium strains, appeared to be an excellent chemo-attractant. Supernatant fluids of a number of Fusarium strains secreting different levels of fusaric acid were tested as chemo-attractants. A positive correlation was found between chemo-attractant activity and fusaric acid level. No chemotactic response was observed toward the low fusaric acid-producer FO242. Nevertheless, the hyphae of FO242 still were colonized by WCS365, suggesting that other metabolites also play a role in this process. The possible function of hyphae colonization for the bacterium is discussed.