Transcriptome and Comparative Genomics Analyses Reveal New Functional Insights on Key Determinants of Pathogenesis and Interbacterial Competition in Pectobacterium and Dickeya spp.


Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa [Email]


Soft-rot Enterobacteriaceae (SRE), typified by Pectobacterium and Dickeya genera, are phytopathogenic bacteria inflicting soft-rot disease in crops worldwide. By combining genomic information from 100 SRE with whole-transcriptome data sets, we identified novel genomic and transcriptional associations among key pathogenicity themes in this group. Comparative genomics revealed solid linkage between the type I secretion system (T1SS) and the carotovoricin bacteriophage (Ctv) conserved in 96.7% of Pectobacterium genomes. Moreover, their coactivation during infection indicates a novel functional association involving T1SS and Ctv. Another bacteriophage-borne genomic region, mostly confined to less than 10% of Pectobacterium strains, was found, presumably comprising a novel lineage-specific prophage in the genus. We also detected the transcriptional coregulation of a previously predicted toxin/immunity pair (WHH and SMI1_KNR4 families), along with the type VI secretion system (T6SS), which includes hcp and/or vgrG genes, suggesting a role in disease development as T6SS-dependent effectors. Further, we showed that another predicted T6SS-dependent endonuclease (AHH family) exhibited toxicity in ectopic expression assays, indicating antibacterial activity. Additionally, we report the striking conservation of the group 4 capsule (GFC) cluster in 100 SRE strains which consistently features adjacently conserved serotype-specific gene arrays comprising a previously unknown organization in GFC clusters. Also, extensive sequence variations found in gfcA orthologs suggest a serotype-specific role in the GfcABCD machinery.IMPORTANCE Despite the considerable loss inflicted on important crops yearly by Pectobacterium and Dickeya diseases, investigations on key virulence and interbacterial competition assets relying on extensive comparative genomics are still surprisingly lacking for these genera. Such approaches become more powerful over time, underpinned by the growing amount of genomic information in public databases. In particular, our findings point to new functional associations among well-known genomic themes enabling alternative means of neutralizing SRE diseases through disruption of pivotal virulence programs. By elucidating novel transcriptional and genomic associations, this study adds valuable information on virulence candidates that could be decisive in molecular applications in the near future. The utilization of 100 genomes of Pectobacterium and Dickeya strains in this study is unprecedented for comparative analyses in these taxa, and it provides novel insights on the biology of economically important plant pathogens.


bacterial capsules,bacteriophages,genomics,pectobacterium,transcriptome analysis,type VI secretion systems,