N-Acetylcysteine in Agriculture, a Novel Use for an Old Molecule: Focus on Controlling the Plant-Pathogen Xylella fastidiosa
Xylella fastidiosa is a plant pathogen bacterium that causes diseases in many different crops. In citrus, it causes Citrus Variegated Chlorosis (CVC). The mechanism of pathogenicity of this bacterium is associated with its capacity to colonize and form a biofilm in the xylem vessels of host plants, and there is not yet any method to directly reduce populations of this pathogen in the field. In this study, we investigated the inhibitory effect of N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), a cysteine analogue used mainly to treat human diseases, on X. fastidiosa in different experimental conditions. Concentrations of NAC over 1 mg/mL reduced bacterial adhesion to glass surfaces, biofilm formation and the amount of exopolysaccharides (EPS). The minimal inhibitory concentration of NAC was 6 mg/mL. NAC was supplied to X. fastidiosa-infected plants in hydroponics, fertigation, and adsorbed to organic fertilizer (NAC-Fertilizer). HPLC analysis indicated that plants absorbed NAC at concentrations of 0.48 and 2.4 mg/mL but not at 6 mg/mL. Sweet orange plants with CVC symptoms treated with NAC (0.48 and 2.4 mg/mL) in hydroponics showed clear symptom remission and reduction in bacterial population, as analyzed by quantitative PCR and bacterial isolation. Experiments using fertigation and NAC-Fertilizer were done to simulate a condition closer to that normally is used in the field. For both, significant symptom remission and a reduced bacterial growth rate were observed. Using NAC-Fertilizer the lag for resurgence of symptoms on leaves after interruption of the treatment increased to around eight months. This is the first report of the anti-bacterial effect of NAC against a phytopathogenic bacterium. The results obtained in this work together with the characteristics of this molecule indicate that the use of NAC in agriculture might be a new and sustainable strategy for controlling plant pathogenic bacteria.