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PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27340. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027340. Epub 2011 Nov 9.

Internal colonization of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium in tomato plants.

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Emerging Pathogens Institute and Department of Plant Pathology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, United States of America.


Several Salmonella enterica outbreaks have been traced back to contaminated tomatoes. In this study, the internalization of S. enterica Typhimurium via tomato leaves was investigated as affected by surfactants and bacterial rdar morphotype, which was reported to be important for the environmental persistence and attachment of Salmonella to plants. Surfactants, especially Silwet L-77, promoted ingress and survival of S. enterica Typhimurium in tomato leaves. In each of two experiments, 84 tomato plants were inoculated two to four times before fruiting with GFP-labeled S. enterica Typhimurium strain MAE110 (with rdar morphotype) or MAE119 (without rdar). For each inoculation, single leaflets were dipped in 10(9) CFU/ml Salmonella suspension with Silwet L-77. Inoculated and adjacent leaflets were tested for Salmonella survival for 3 weeks after each inoculation. The surface and pulp of ripe fruits produced on these plants were also examined for Salmonella. Populations of both Salmonella strains in inoculated leaflets decreased during 2 weeks after inoculation but remained unchanged (at about 10(4) CFU/g) in week 3. Populations of MAE110 were significantly higher (P<0.05) than those of MAE119 from day 3 after inoculation. In the first year, nine fruits collected from one of the 42 MAE119 inoculated plants were positive for S. enterica Typhimurium. In the second year, Salmonella was detected in adjacent non-inoculated leaves of eight tomato plants (five inoculated with strain MAE110). The pulp of 12 fruits from two plants inoculated with MAE110 was Salmonella positive (about 10(6) CFU/g). Internalization was confirmed by fluorescence and confocal laser microscopy. For the first time, convincing evidence is presented that S. enterica can move inside tomato plants grown in natural field soil and colonize fruits at high levels without inducing any symptoms, except for a slight reduction in plant growth.

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