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Evolutionary transitions between beneficial and phytopathogenic Rhodococcus challenge disease management

TitleEvolutionary transitions between beneficial and phytopathogenic Rhodococcus challenge disease management
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsSavory, EA, Fuller, SL, Weisberg, AJ, Thomas, WJ, Gordon, MI, Stevens, DM, Creason, AL, Belcher, MS, Serdani, M, Wiseman, MS, Grünwald, NJ, Putnam, ML, Chang, JH
Secondary AuthorsGreenberg, JT
Date Publisheddec
evolutionary transition, horizontal gene transfer, mutualism, plant growth promoting bacteria, Rhodococcus, virulence

Understanding how bacteria affect plant health is crucial for developing sustainable crop production systems. We coupled ecological sampling and genome sequencing to characterize the population genetic history of \textit{Rhodococcus} and the distribution patterns of virulence plasmids in isolates from nurseries. Analysis of chromosome sequences shows that plants host multiple lineages of \textit{Rhodococcus}, and suggested that these bacteria are transmitted due to independent introductions, reservoir populations, and point source outbreaks. We demonstrate that isolates lacking virulence genes promote beneficial plant growth, and that the acquisition of a virulence plasmid is sufficient to transition beneficial symbionts to phytopathogens. This evolutionary transition, along with the distribution patterns of plasmids, reveals the impact of horizontal gene transfer in rapidly generating new pathogenic lineages and provides an alternative explanation for pathogen transmission patterns. Results also uncovered a misdiagnosed epidemic that implicated beneficial \textit{Rhodococcus} bacteria as pathogens of pistachio. The misdiagnosis perpetuated the unnecessary removal of trees and exacerbated economic losses.
Citation Key10.7554/eLife.30925