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Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2005 Mar;69(1):155-94.

Detection of and response to signals involved in host-microbe interactions by plant-associated bacteria.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, 361A Wing Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Diverse interactions between hosts and microbes are initiated by the detection of host-released chemical signals. Detection of these signals leads to altered patterns of gene expression that culminate in specific and adaptive changes in bacterial physiology that are required for these associations. This concept was first demonstrated for the members of the family Rhizobiaceae and was later found to apply to many other plant-associated bacteria as well as to microbes that colonize human and animal hosts. The family Rhizobiaceae includes various genera of rhizobia as well as species of Agrobacterium. Rhizobia are symbionts of legumes, which fix nitrogen within root nodules, while Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a pathogen that causes crown gall tumors on a wide variety of plants. The plant-released signals that are recognized by these bacteria are low-molecular-weight, diffusible molecules and are detected by the bacteria through specific receptor proteins. Similar phenomena are observed with other plant pathogens, including Pseudomonas syringae, Ralstonia solanacearum, and Erwinia spp., although here the signals and signal receptors are not as well defined. In some cases, nutritional conditions such as iron limitation or the lack of nitrogen sources seem to provide a significant cue. While much has been learned about the process of host detection over the past 20 years, our knowledge is far from being complete. The complex nature of the plant-microbe interactions makes it extremely challenging to gain a comprehensive picture of host detection in natural environments, and thus many signals and signal recognition systems remain to be described.

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