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Environ Microbiol. 2012 Aug;14(8):2058-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02671.x. Epub 2011 Dec 19.

Out of the ground: aerial and exotic habitats of the melioidosis bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei in grasses in Australia.

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Tropical & Emerging Infectious Diseases Division, Menzies School of Health Research, PO Box 41096, Casuarina, NT 0811, Australia.


Melioidosis is an emerging infectious disease of humans and animals in the tropics caused by the soil bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. Despite high fatality rates, the ecology of B.pseudomallei remains unclear. We used a combination of field and laboratory studies to investigate B.pseudomallei colonization of native and exotic grasses in northern Australia. Multivariable and spatial analyses were performed to determine significant predictors for B.pseudomallei occurrence in plants and soil collected longitudinally from field sites. In plant inoculation experiments, the impact of B.pseudomallei upon these grasses was studied and the bacterial load semi-quantified. Fluorescence in situ hybridization and confocal laser scanning microscopy were performed to localize the bacteria in plants. Burkholderia pseudomallei was found to inhabit not only the rhizosphere and roots but also aerial parts of specific grasses. This raises questions about the potential spread of B.pseudomallei by grazing animals whose droppings were found to be positive for these bacteria. In particular, B.pseudomallei readily colonized exotic grasses introduced to Australia for pasture. The ongoing spread of these introduced grasses creates new habitats suitable for B.pseudomallei survival and may be an important factor in the evolving epidemiology of melioidosis seen both in northern Australia and elsewhere globally.

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