Phenotypic and biochemical characterisation of the causal agent of bacterial leaf streak of maize
Nienaber, Jesse Jay
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Maize is the staple food for a majority of people in Southern Africa, but plant diseases are responsible for at least 10% of crop production losses. Bacterial leaf streak (BLS) of maize was first reported in South Africa in 1949 and has not been reported elsewhere. Very little is known about the pathogen involved and therefore it is deemed necessary to compile a characteristic profile for the pathogen to prevent the possibility of major crop losses as a result of this disease. This study aimed to use biochemical and phenotypic methods to determine the specific characteristics of the causal agent of BLS. Diseased plant material showing symptoms of BLS were collected during the maize production seasons of 2012 and 2013 within South Africa’s maize production regions namely the North West, Free State, Gauteng and Northern Cape provinces. To prevent contamination, maize leaves were surface sterilised thoroughly before bacterial isolation commenced. Sections of the infected maize leaves were placed on GYC agar plates on which yellow, mucoid bacterial colonies after incubation for 24 to 48 hrs. The isolated bacteria were purified and the molecular identification of the bacteria was conducted in a related study. Although literature indicates that Xanthomonas campestris pv. zeae is the causal agent of BLS, pure cultures obtained from maize leaves showing characteristic symptoms of BLS were identified as species of Xanthomonas, Pantoea, and Enterobacter. To elucidate the pathogenicity of the isolated strains, pathogenicity tests based on Koch’s postulates were performed. Results from the pathogenicity tests confirmed that only the isolate Xanthomonas species was capable of inducing the characteristic BLS symptoms when healthy maize plants were inoculated with the suspected pathogens. It is important to inoculate the maize seedlings at the correct age (four-leaf stage) and the spray method is recommended. Re-isolation was repeated from the same plant material used during the initial isolation process but the isolation method was amended. The optimised isolation method involved the use of a dilution range and spread plate method. Colonies from this isolation technique grew as bright yellow colonies that were identified as Xanthomonas spp. This outcome indicates the importance of surface sterilisation, pulverisation and subsequent dilution of plant materials for isolation of bacterial pathogens from diseases plants. These isolates were used to create protein profiles with SDS-PAGE electrophoresis and carbon utilisation patterns with the Biolog® GN2 system. Protein profiling banding patterns was assessed based on presence/absence criteria. Highly similar protein profiles were observed among the X. campestris pv. zeae isolates but groupings of different protein profiles were determined when minor differences in the protein profiles was taken into account. Xanthomonas campestris pv. zeae was successfully distinguished from the X. axonopodis pv. vasculorum reference strain through unique SDS banding patterns. Banding patterns obtained from cultures grown in a liquid medium (tryptic soy broth) were of a higher quality than the banding patterns obtained from bacteria harvested from solid media (CYG agar plates). Carbon source utilisation data was used to evaluate the average well colour development obtained from each isolate. Statistically significant differences were found among some of the isolates, with some isolates being metabolically more active than other isolates. Substrate utilisation patterns produced by the isolates corresponded to previously published studies on various Xanthomonas species. The cell count of the samples used during carbon utilisation patterns must be standardised in order to obtain reliable results. During this study, the application of Koch’s postulates and two inoculation techniques confirmed that Xanthomonas campestris pv. zeae is the pathogen responsible for bacterial leaf streak of maize. Members of the Pantoea and Enterobacter genera were found on the leaf surface of maize plants infected with BLS but inoculations of healthy maize plants with these bacteria did not result in bacterial leaf streak symptoms on the maize plants. These bacteria were not pathogenic and were considered endophytes. The identified pathogen was characterised through protein and metabolic profiling. The protein profiles of the pathogen obtained through analysis of the major bands of the SDS-PAGE gels were highly similar and distinguishable from the Xanthomonas reference culture. Groupings within the X. campestris pv. zeae group was found when major and minor bands were considered, this may however be altered when the intensities of the bands are used during analysis. Carbon utilisation patterns were assessed using Biolog® GN2 plates. A metabolic fingerprint was created for the pathogen of BLS, it was possible to distinguish between X. campestris pv. zeae and other Xanthomonas strains based on the fingerprint. This fingerprint could be used to identify the pathogen.