Natural Competence of Xylella fastidiosa Occurs at a High Frequency Inside Microfluidic Chambers Mimicking the Bacterium's Natural Habitats
Xylella fastidiosa is a xylem-limited bacterium that is the causal agent of emerging diseases in a number of economically important crops. Genetic diversity studies have demonstrated homologous recombination occurring among X. fastidiosa strains, which has been proposed to contribute to host plant shifts. Moreover, experimental evidence confirmed that X. fastidiosa is naturally competent for recombination in vitro. Here, as an approximation of natural habitats (plant xylem vessels and insect mouthparts), recombination was studied in microfluidic chambers (MCs) filled with media amended with grapevine xylem sap. First, different media were screened for recombination in solid agar plates using a pair of X. fastidiosa strains that were previously reported to recombine in coculture. The highest frequency of recombination was obtained with PD3 medium, compared to those with the other two media (X. fastidiosa medium [XFM] and periwinkle wilt [PW] medium) used in previous studies. Dissection of the media components led to the identification of bovine serum albumin as an inhibitor of recombination that was correlated to its previously known effect on inhibition of twitching motility. When recombination was performed in liquid culture, the frequencies were significantly higher under flow conditions (MCs) than under batch conditions (test tubes). The recombination frequencies in MCs and agar plates were not significantly different from each other. Grapevine xylem sap from both susceptible and tolerant varieties allowed high recombination frequency in MCs when mixed with PD3. These results suggest that X. fastidiosa has the ability to be naturally competent in the natural growth environment of liquid flow, and this phenomenon could have implications in X. fastidiosa environmental adaptation. Xylella fastidiosa is a plant pathogen that lives inside xylem vessels (where water and nutrients are transported inside the plant) and the mouthparts of insect vectors. This bacterium causes emerging diseases in various crops worldwide, including recent outbreaks in Europe. The mechanisms by which this bacterium adapts to new hosts is not understood, but it was previously shown that it is naturally competent, meaning that it can take up DNA from the environment and incorporate it into its genome (recombination). In this study, we show that the frequency of recombination is highest when the bacterium is grown under flow conditions in microfluidic chambers modeled after its natural habitats, and recombination was still high when the medium was amended with grapevine sap. Our results suggest that this bacterium is able to recombine when growing inside plants or insects, and this can be a mechanism of adaptation of this pathogen that causes incurable diseases.