Response of Xylella fastidiosa to Zinc: Decreased Culturability, Increased Exopolysaccharide Production, and Formation of Resilient Biofilms under Flow Conditions
The bacterial plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa produces biofilm that accumulates in the host xylem vessels, affecting disease development in various crops and bacterial acquisition by insect vectors. Biofilms are sensitive to the chemical composition of the environment, and mineral elements being transported in the xylem are of special interest for this pathosystem. Here, X. fastidiosa liquid cultures were supplemented with zinc and compared with nonamended cultures to determine the effects of Zn on growth, biofilm, and exopolysaccharide (EPS) production under batch and flow culture conditions. The results show that Zn reduces growth and biofilm production under both conditions. However, in microfluidic chambers under liquid flow and with constant bacterial supplementation (closer to conditions inside the host), a dramatic increase in biofilm aggregates was seen in the Zn-amended medium. Biofilms formed under these conditions were strongly attached to surfaces and were not removed by medium flow. This phenomenon was correlated with increased EPS production in stationary-phase cells grown under high Zn concentrations. Zn did not cause greater adhesion to surfaces by individual cells. Additionally, viability analyses suggest that X. fastidiosa may be able to enter the viable but nonculturable state in vitro, and Zn can hasten the onset of this state. Together, these findings suggest that Zn can act as a stress factor with pleiotropic effects on X. fastidiosa and indicate that, although Zn could be used as a bactericide treatment, it could trigger the undesired effect of stronger biofilm formation upon reinoculation events.