First, second, and fourth authors: Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison 53706; and third author: Department of Plant Pathology, University of Georgia, Athens 30603.
Most strains of the bacterial wilt pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum are tropical, but race 3 biovar 2 (R3bv2) strains can attack plants in temperate zones and tropical highlands. The basis of this distinctive ecological trait is not understood. We compared the survival of tropical, R3bv2, and warm-temperate North American strains of R. solanacearum under different conditions. In water at 4°C, North American strains remained culturable the longest (up to 90 days), whereas tropical strains remained culturable for the shortest time (≈40 days). However, live/dead staining indicated that cells of representative strains remained viable for >160 days. In contrast, inside potato tubers, R3bv2 strain UW551 survived >4 months at 4°C, whereas North American strain K60 and tropical strain GMI1000 were undetectable after <70 days in tubers. GMI1000 and UW551 grew similarly in minimal medium at 20 and 28°C and, although both strains wilted tomato plants rapidly at 28°C, UW551 was much more virulent at 20°C, killing all inoculated plants under conditions where GMI100 killed just over half. Thus, differences among the strains in the absence of a plant host were not predictive of their behavior in planta at cooler temperatures. These data indicate that interaction with plants is required for expression of the temperate epidemiological trait of R3bv2.