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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Dec;71(12):8500-5.

Horizontal gene transfer to endogenous endophytic bacteria from poplar improves phytoremediation of toluene.

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  • 1Brookhaven National Laboratory, Biology Department, Building 463, Upton, NY 11973-5000.


Poplar, a plant species frequently used for phytoremediation of groundwater contaminated with organic solvents, was inoculated with the endophyte Burkholderia cepacia VM1468. This strain, whose natural host is yellow lupine, contains the pTOM-Bu61 plasmid coding for constitutively expressed toluene degradation. Noninoculated plants or plants inoculated with the soil bacterium B. cepacia Bu61(pTOM-Bu61) were used as controls. Inoculation of poplar had a positive effect on plant growth in the presence of toluene and reduced the amount of toluene released via evapotranspiration. These effects were more dramatic for VM1468, the endophytic strain, than for Bu61. Remarkably, none of the strains became established at detectable levels in the endophytic community, but there was horizontal gene transfer of pTOM-Bu61 to different members of the endogenous endophytic community, both in the presence and in the absence of toluene. This work is the first report of in planta horizontal gene transfer among plant-associated endophytic bacteria and demonstrates that such transfer could be used to change natural endophytic microbial communities in order to improve the remediation of environmental insults.

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