Differentiation of Xylella fastidiosa Strains via Multilocus Sequence Analysis of Environmentally Mediated Genes (MLSA-E)
Isolates of the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa are genetically very similar, but studies on their biological traits have indicated differences in virulence and infection symptomatology. Taxonomic analyses have identified several subspecies, and phylogenetic analyses of housekeeping genes have shown broad host-based genetic differences; however, results are still inconclusive for genetic differentiation of isolates within subspecies. This study employs multilocus sequence analysis of environmentally mediated genes (MLSA-E; genes influenced by environmental factors) to investigate X. fastidiosa relationships and differentiate isolates with low genetic variability. Potential environmentally mediated genes, including host colonization and survival genes related to infection establishment, were identified a priori. The ratio of the rate of nonsynonymous substitutions to the rate of synonymous substitutions (dN/dS) was calculated to select genes that may be under increased positive selection compared to previously studied housekeeping genes. Nine genes were sequenced from 54 X. fastidiosa isolates infecting different host plants across the United States. Results of maximum likelihood (ML) and Bayesian phylogenetic (BP) analyses are in agreement with known X. fastidiosa subspecies clades but show novel within-subspecies differentiation, including geographic differentiation, and provide additional information regarding host-based isolate variation and specificity. dN/dS ratios of environmentally mediated genes, though <1 due to high sequence similarity, are significantly greater than housekeeping gene dN/dS ratios and correlate with increased sequence variability. MLSA-E can more precisely resolve relationships between closely related bacterial strains with low genetic variability, such as X. fastidiosa isolates. Discovering the genetic relationships between X. fastidiosa isolates will provide new insights into the epidemiology of populations of X. fastidiosa, allowing improved disease management in economically important crops.