By using DNA sequencing to make pathogen-specific probes, researchers are able to detect and count the deadly bacteria in soil and on plant surfaces and advise growers on the best method of disease control.
Currently, there are more than a dozen different kinds of scab-producing Streptomyces that affect potato crops worldwide. These filamentous pathogens can penetrate expanding plant cells, including potato tubers, producing raised or pitted scab-like lesions.
S. scabies is pathogenic due to its ability to produce thaxtomin, a protein that breaks down the walls of growing cells, which is encoded on a short segment of DNA transferred during mating. This gives the bacterium the ability to infect any elongating part of a plant that is underground. It is these thaxtomin biosynthethic genes that have been used to develop the pathogen-specific probes.
The potato crop is propagated vegetatively and when infected seed tubers are shipped around the globe, the harmful bacteria get a free ride to new production areas. It is not uncommon to find more than one scab-producing species in the same place, and by using the new probes, scientists can target all known variants. With further advancements in DNA analysis, even better techniques to identify these pathogens and prevent disease may be developed in the future.
Other features in the May 2007 issue of Microbiology Today include:• An introduction to the actinobacteria (page 60)
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