Natural Competence Rates Are Variable Among Xylella fastidiosa Strains and Homologous Recombination Occurs In Vitro Between Subspecies fastidiosa and multiplex
Xylella fastidiosa, an etiological agent of emerging crop diseases around the world, is naturally competent for the uptake of DNA from the environment that is incorporated into its genome by homologous recombination. Homologous recombination between subspecies of X. fastidiosa was inferred by in silico studies and was hypothesized to cause disease emergence. However, no experimental data are available on the degree to which X. fastidiosa strains are capable of competence and whether recombination can be experimentally demonstrated between subspecies. Here, using X. fastidiosa strains from different subspecies, natural competence in 11 of 13 strains was confirmed with plasmids containing antibiotic markers flanked by homologous regions and, in three of five strains, with dead bacterial cells used as source of donor DNA. Recombination frequency differed among strains and was correlated to growth rate and twitching motility. Moreover, intersubspecific recombination occurred readily between strains of subsp. fastidiosa and multiplex, as demonstrated by movement of antibiotic resistance and green fluorescent protein from donor to recipient cells and confirmed by DNA sequencing of the flanking arms of recombinant strains. Results demonstrate that natural competence is widespread among X. fastidiosa strains and could have an impact in pathogen adaptation and disease development.