Endophytic population of Pantoea agglomerans in citrus plants and development of a cloning vector for endophytes
Harmless bacteria inhabiting inner plant tissues are termed endophytes. Population fluctuations in the endophytic bacterium Pantoea agglomerans associated with two species of field cultured citrus plants were monitored over a two-year period. The results demonstrated that populations of P. agglomerans fluctuated in Citrus reticulata but not C. sinensis. A cryptic plasmid pPA3.0 (2.9 kb) was identified in 35 out of 44 endophytic isolates of P. agglomerans and was subsequently sequenced. The origins of replication were identified and nine out of 18 open reading frames (ORFs) revealed homology with described proteins. Notably, two ORFs were related to cellular transport systems and plasmid maintenance. Plasmid pPA3.0 was cloned and the gfp gene inserted to generate the pPAGFP vector. The vector was introduced into P. agglomerans isolates and revealed stability was dependent on the isolate genotype, ninety-percent stability values were reached after 60 hours of bacterial cultivation in most evaluated isolates. In order to definitively establish P. agglomerans as an endophyte, the non-transformed bacterium was reintroduced into in vitro cultivated seedlings and the density of inner tissue colonization in inoculated plants was estimated by bacterium re-isolation, while the tissue niches preferred by the bacterium were investigated by scanning electronic microscopy (SEM). Cells from P. agglomerans (strain ARB18) at similar densities were re-isolated from roots, stems and leaves and colonization of parenchyma and xylem tissues were observed. Data suggested that P. agglomerans is a ubiquitous citrus endophyte harboring cryptic plasmids. These characteristics suggest the potential to use the bacterium as a vehicle to introduce new genes in host plants via endophytic bacterial transformation.