Chitin Utilization by the Insect-Transmitted Bacterium Xylella fastidiosa
Xylella fastidiosa is an insect-borne bacterium that colonizes xylem vessels of a large number of host plants, including several crops of economic importance. Chitin is a polysaccharide present in the cuticle of leafhopper vectors of X. fastidiosa and may serve as a carbon source for this bacterium. Biological assays showed that X. fastidiosa reached larger populations in the presence of chitin. Additionally, chitin induced phenotypic changes in this bacterium, notably increasing adhesiveness. Quantitative PCR assays indicated transcriptional changes in the presence of chitin, and an enzymatic assay demonstrated chitinolytic activity by X. fastidiosa. An ortholog of the chitinase A gene (chiA) was identified in the X. fastidiosa genome. The in silico analysis revealed that the open reading frame of chiA encodes a protein of 351 amino acids with an estimated molecular mass of 40 kDa. chiA is in a locus that consists of genes implicated in polysaccharide degradation. Moreover, this locus was also found in the genomes of closely related bacteria in the genus Xanthomonas, which are plant but not insect associated. X. fastidiosa degraded chitin when grown on a solid chitin-yeast extract-agar medium and grew in liquid medium with chitin as the sole carbon source; ChiA was also determined to be secreted. The gene encoding ChiA was cloned into Escherichia coli, and endochitinase activity was detected in the transformant, showing that the gene is functional and involved in chitin degradation. The results suggest that X. fastidiosa may use its vectors' foregut surface as a carbon source. In addition, chitin may trigger X. fastidiosa's gene regulation and biofilm formation within vectors. Further work is necessary to characterize the role of chitin and its utilization in X. fastidiosa.