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Int J Parasitol. 2012 Jul;42(8):747-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2012.05.005. Epub 2012 Jun 13.

The importance of being regular: Caenorhabditis elegans and Pristionchus pacificus defecation mutants are hypersusceptible to bacterial pathogens.

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Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Department of Evolutionary Biology, Spemannstrasse 37-39, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Bacterial pathogens have shaped the evolution and survival of organisms throughout history, but little is known about the evolution of virulence mechanisms and the counteracting defence strategies of host species. The nematode model organisms, Caenorhabditis elegans and Pristionchus pacificus, feed on a wealth of bacteria in their natural soil environment, some of which can cause mortality. Previously, we have shown that these nematodes differ in their susceptibility to a range of human and insect pathogenic bacteria, with P. pacificus showing extreme resistance compared with C. elegans. Here, we isolated 400 strains of Bacillus from soil samples and fed their spores to both nematodes. Spores of six Bacillus strains were found to kill C. elegans but not P. pacificus. While the majority of Bacillus strains are benign to nematodes, observed pathogenicity is restricted to either the spore or the vegetative stage. We used the rapid C. elegans killer strain (Bacillus sp. 142) to conduct a screen for hypersusceptible P. pacificus mutants. Two P. pacificus mutants with severe muscle defects and an extended defecation cycle that die rapidly on Bacillus spores were isolated. These genes were identified to be homologous to C. elegans, unc-22 and unc-13. To test whether a similar relationship between defecation and bacterial pathogenesis exists in C. elegans, we used five known defecation mutants. Quantification of the defecation cycle in mutants also revealed a severe effect on survival in C. elegans. Thus, intestinal peristalsis is critical to nematode health and contributes significantly to survival when fed Gram-positive bacteria.

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