First, third, and fourth authors: Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, and second author: Department of Statistics, Iowa State University, Ames 50011.
The causal agent of cucurbit bacterial wilt, Erwinia tracheiphila, has a wide host range in the family Cucurbitaceae, including economically important crops such as muskmelon (Cucumis melo), cucumber (C. sativus), and squash (Cucurbita spp.). Genetic variability of 69 E. tracheiphila strains was investigated by repetitive-element polymerase chain reaction (rep-PCR) using BOXA1R and ERIC1-2 primers. Fingerprint profiles revealed significant variability associated with crop host; strains isolated from Cucumis spp. were clearly distinguishable from Cucurbita spp.-isolated strains regardless of geographic origin. Twelve E. tracheiphila strains isolated from muskmelon, cucumber, or summer squash were inoculated onto muskmelon and summer squash seedlings, followed by incubation in a growth chamber. Wilt symptoms were assessed over 3 weeks, strains were reisolated, and rep-PCR profiles were compared with the inoculated strains. Wilting occurred significantly faster when seedlings were inoculated with strains that originated from the same crop host genus (P<0.001). In the first run of the experiment, cucumber and muskmelon strains caused wilting on muskmelon seedlings at a median of 7.8 and 5.6 days after inoculation (dai), respectively. Summer squash seedlings wilted 18.0, 15.7, and 5.7 dai when inoculated with muskmelon-, cucumber-, and squash-origin strains, respectively. In a second run of the experiment, cucumber and muskmelon strains caused wilting on muskmelon at 7.0 and 6.9 dai, respectively, whereas summer squash seedlings wilted at 23.6, 29.0 and 9.0 dai when inoculated with muskmelon-, cucumber-, and squash-origin strains, respectively. Our results provide the first evidence of genetic diversity within E. tracheiphila and suggest that strain specificity is associated with plant host. This advance is a first step toward understanding the genetic and population structure of E. tracheiphila.