Ecological dynamics and complex interactions of Agrobacterium megaplasmids

Thomas G. Platt, Elise R. Morton, Ian S. Barton, James D. Bever, Clay Fuqua

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


As with many pathogenic bacteria, agrobacterial plant pathogens carry most of their virulence functions on a horizontally transmissible genetic element. The tumor-inducing (Ti) plasmid encodes the majority of virulence functions for the crown gall agent Agrobacterium tumefaciens. This includes the vir genes which drive genetic transformation of host cells and the catabolic genes needed to utilize the opines produced by infected plants. The Ti plasmid also encodes, an opine-dependent quorum sensing system that tightly regulates Ti plasmid copy number and its conjugal transfer to other agrobacteria. Many natural agrobacteria are avirulent, lacking the Ti plasmid. The burden of harboring the Ti plasmid depends on the environmental context. Away from diseased hosts, plasmid costs are low but the benefit of the plasmid is also absent. Consequently, plasmidless genotypes are favored. On infected plants the costs of the Ti plasmid can be very high, but balanced by the opine benefits, locally favoring plasmid bearing cells. Cheating derivatives which do not incur virulence costs but can benefit from opines are favored on infected plants and in most other environments, and these are frequently isolated from nature. Many agrobacteria also harbor an At plasmid which can stably coexist with a Ti plasmid. At plasmid genes are less well characterized but in general facilitate metabolic activities in the rhizosphere and bulk soil, such as the ability to breakdown plant exudates. Examination of A. tumefaciens C58, revealed that harboring its At plasmid is much more costly than harboring it’s Ti plasmid, but conversely the At plasmid is extremely difficult to cure. The interactions between these co-resident plasmids are complex, and depend on environmental context. However, the presence of a Ti plasmid appears to mitigate At plasmid costs, consistent with the high frequency with which they are found together.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number635
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Issue numberNovember
StatePublished - Nov 14 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Platt, Morton, Barton, Bever and Fuqua.


  • Bacterial
  • Ecology
  • Genome
  • Pathogenesis
  • Plasmids
  • Replicon
  • Virulence


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