Plant-Pathogenic Ralstonia Phylotypes Evolved Divergent Respiratory Strategies and Behaviors To Thrive in Xylem

Alicia N. Truchon, Beth L. Dalsing, Devanshi Khokhani, April MacIntyre, Bradon R. McDonald, Florent Ailloud, Jonathan Klassen, Enid T. Gonzalez-Orta, Cameron Currie, Philippe Prior, Tiffany M. Lowe-Power, Caitilyn Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial pathogens in the Ralstonia solanacearum species complex (RSSC) infect the water-transporting xylemvessels of plants, causing bacterial wilt disease. Strains in RSSC phylotypes I and III can reduce nitrate to dinitrogen via complete denitrification. The four-step denitrification pathway enables bacteria to use inorganic nitrogen species as terminal electron acceptors, supporting their growth in oxygen-limited environments such as biofilms or plant xylem. Reduction of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide all contribute to the virulence of a model phylotype I strain. However, little is known about the physiological role of the last denitrification step, the reduction of nitrous oxide to dinitrogen by NosZ. We found that phylotypes I and III need NosZ for full virulence. However, strains in phylotypes II and IV are highly virulent despite lacking NosZ. The ability to respire by reducing nitrate to nitrous oxide does not greatly enhance the growth of phylotype II and IV strains. These partial denitrifying strains reach high cell densities during plant infection and cause typical wilt disease. However, unlike phylotype I and III strains, partial denitrifiers cannot grow well under anaerobic conditions or form thick biofilms in culture or in tomato xylem vessels. Furthermore, aerotaxis assays show that strains from different phylotypes have different oxygen and nitrate preferences. Together, these results indicate that the RSSC contains two subgroups that occupy the same habitat but have evolved divergent energy metabolism strategies to exploit distinct metabolic niches in the xylem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, an NSF predoctoral fellowship to Beth L. Dalsing, and NSF project IOS-1258082 to Caitilyn Allen.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Truchon et al.


  • bacterial wilt
  • denitrification
  • denitrifying respiration
  • endophytic bacteria
  • niche partitioning
  • plant pathogens
  • vascular wilt

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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