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Mol Biol Evol. 2014 May;31(5):1059-65. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu075. Epub 2014 Feb 19.

Interkingdom transfer of the acne-causing agent, Propionibacterium acnes, from human to grapevine.

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  • 1Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems and Bioresources Department, Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach, S. Michele all'Adige (TN), Italy.


Here, we report the surprising and, to our knowledge, unique example of horizontal interkingdom transfer of a human opportunistic pathogen (Propionibacterium acnes) to a crop plant (the domesticated grapevine Vitis vinifera L.). Humans, like most organisms, have established a long-lasting cohabitation with a variety of microbes, including pathogens and gut-associated bacteria. Studies which have investigated the dynamics of such associations revealed numerous cases of bacterial host switches from domestic animals to humans. Much less is, however, known about the exchange of microbial symbionts between humans and plants. Fluorescent in situ hybridization localized P. acnes in the bark, in xylem fibers, and, more interestingly, inside pith tissues. Phylogenetic and population genetic analyses suggest that the establishment of the grapevine-associated P. acnes as obligate endophyte is compatible with a recent transfer event, likely during the Neolithic, when grapevine was domesticated.


Propionibacterium acnes; endophyte; pathogen; recA; symbiosis

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  • Zits, grapes, and Frank Zappa. [Mol Biol Evol. 2014]
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