Cornell University, Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, 334 Plant Science Building, Ithaca, NY 14853-4203.
The aim of this study was to understand whether competition for fatty acids in plant seed exudates by compost-derived seed-colonizing microbial communities could explain the suppression of plant infections initiated by sporangia of Pythium ultimum. The germination behavior of P. ultimum sporangia in response to cucumber seeds was measured to determine the impact of seed-colonizing microbes on pathogen suppression. Seed-colonizing microbial communities from municipal biosolids compost utilized cucumber seed exudates and linoleic acid in vitro, reducing the respective stimulatory activity of these elicitors to P. ultimum sporangial germination. However, when sporangia were observed directly in the spermosphere of seeds sown in the compost medium, levels of germination and sporangial emptying did not differ from the responses in sand. The percentage of aborted germ tubes was greater after incubating sporangia in compost medium for 12-h than the level of germ tube abortion when sporangia were incubated in sand. Abortion did not occur if previously germinated sporangia were supplemented with cucumber seed exudate. Furthermore, removal of cucumber seed exudate after various stages of germ tube emergence resulted in an increase in aborted germ tubes over time. Adding increasing levels of glucose directly to the compost medium alleviated germ tube abortion in the spermosphere and also eliminated disease suppression. These data fail to support a role for linoleic acid competition in Pythium seedling disease suppression but provide evidence for general carbon competition mediated by seed-colonizing microbial communities as a mechanism for the suppression of Pythium seed infections in municipal biosolids compost.