Xylella fastidiosa: bacterial parasitism with hallmarks of commensalism.


Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology, University of California, Riverside, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521, United States. Electronic address: [Email]


All organisms evolve in the presence of other organisms and these intimate associations are major drivers of evolution. Broadly speaking, these interactions are considered symbioses and can take on a full range of positive, negative or seemingly neutral interactions. Just two examples of these symbiotic interactions are parasitism and commensalism. Parasitism results in one partner benefitting while one partner suffers adverse consequences. Commensalism is a form of symbiosis where one partner benefits and the other partner is neutrally affected. Research efforts are more often focused on understanding parasitic symbioses related to disease, hence, much research is performed on identifying virulence factors to understand the fundamentals of pathogenesis. In turn, much less is understood about the fundamentals of commensal relationships. Here, we will take an introspective look at the plant-associated bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa. In some of its many plant hosts, this bacterium participates in seemingly commensal relationships while in other hosts, it causes devastating diseases that result in epidemics, making it a good model for exploring the determinants of where bacteria fall on the spectrum of parasitic and commensal relationships from both the microbial and the plant host perspective. Recent discoveries in how pathogenic X. fastidiosa imposes self-limiting behaviors upon itself indicate that even in its parasitic form, X. fastidiosa displays hallmarks of a commensal lifestyle. Understanding how commensalism can 'go wrong' and manifest into pathologies in specific hosts is a useful vantage point from which to study the determinants of virulence and pathogenicity.

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