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Environ Microbiol. 2012 May;14(5):1325-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2012.02715.x. Epub 2012 Feb 24.

The mechanics of bacterial cluster formation on plant leaf surfaces as revealed by bioreporter technology.

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Department of Microbial Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology, Wageningen, The Netherlands.


Bacteria that colonize the leaves of terrestrial plants often occur in clusters whose size varies from a few to thousands of cells. For the formation of such bacterial clusters, two non-mutually exclusive but very different mechanisms may be proposed: aggregation of multiple cells or clonal reproduction of a single cell. Here we assessed the contribution of both mechanisms on the leaves of bean plants that were colonized by the bacterium Pantoea agglomerans. In one approach, we used a mixture of green and red fluorescent P. agglomerans cells to populate bean leaves. We observed that this resulted in clusters made up of only one colour as well as two-colour clusters, thus providing evidence for both mechanisms. Another P. agglomerans bioreporter, designed to quantify the reproductive success of bacterial colonizers by proxy to the rate at which green fluorescent protein is diluted from dividing cells, revealed that during the first hours on the leaf surface, many bacteria were dividing, but not staying together and forming clusters, which is suggestive of bacterial relocation. Together, these findings support a dynamic model of leaf surface colonization, where both aggregative and reproductive mechanisms take place. The bioreporter-based approach we employed here should be broadly applicable towards a more quantitative and mechanistic understanding of bacterial colonization of surfaces in general.

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