Upstream migration of Xylella fastidiosa via pilus-driven twitching motility
Xylella fastidiosa is a xylem-limited nonflagellated bacterium that causes economically important diseases of plants by developing biofilms that block xylem sap flow. How the bacterium is translocated downward in the host plant's vascular system against the direction of the transpiration stream has long been a puzzling phenomenon. Using microfabricated chambers designed to mimic some of the features of xylem vessels, we discovered that X. fastidiosa migrates via type IV-pilus-mediated twitching motility at speeds up to 5 mu m min(-1) against a rapidly flowing medium (20,000 mu m min(-1)). Electron microscopy revealed that there are two length classes of pili, long type IV pili (1.0 to 5.8 mu m) and short type I pili (0.4 to 1.0 mu m). We further demonstrated that two knockout mutants (pilB and pilQ mutants) that are deficient in type IV pili do not twitch and are inhibited from colonizing upstream vascular regions in planta. In addition, mutants with insertions in pilB or pilQ (possessing type I pili only) express enhanced biofilm formation, whereas a mutant with an insertion in fimA (possessing only type IV pili) is biofilm deficient.