Molecular Interactions of Endophytic Actinobacteria in Wheat and Arabidopsis

Author: Vanessa Michelle Conn

Conn, Vanessa Michelle, 2006 Molecular Interactions of Endophytic Actinobacteria in Wheat and Arabidopsis, Flinders University, School of Medicine

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Wheat is the most economically important crop forming one quarter of Australian farm production. The wheat industry is severely affected by diseases, with fungal pathogens causing the most important economic losses in Australia. The application of fungicides and chemicals can control crop diseases to a certain extent, however, it is expensive and public concern for the environment has led to alternative methods of disease control to be sought, including the use of microorganisms as biological control agents. Microorganisms are abundant in the soil adjacent to plant roots (rhizosphere) and within healthy plant tissue (endophytic) and a proportion possess plant growth promotion and disease resistance properties. Actinobacteria are gram-positive, filamentous bacteria capable of secondary metabolite production such as antibiotics and antifungal compounds. A number of the biologically active endophytes belonging to the Actinobacteria phylum were isolated in our laboratory. A number of these isolates were capable of suppressing the wheat fungal pathogens Rhizoctonia solani, Pythium sp. and Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici, both in vitro and in planta indicating the potential for the actinobacteria to be used as biocontrol agents. The aim of this research was to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying this plant-microbe interaction. The indigenous microbial populations present in the rhizosphere and endophytic environment are critical to plant health and disruptions of these populations are detrimental. The culture-independent technique Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (T-RFLP) was used to characterise the endophytic actinobacteria population of wheat roots under different conditions. Soils which support a higher number of indigenous microorganisms result in wheat roots with higher endophytic actinobacterial diversity and level of colonisation. Sequencing of 16S rRNA gene clones, obtained using the same actinobacteria-biased PCR primers that were used in the T-RFLP analysis, confirmed the presence of the actinobacterial diversity, and identified a number of Mycobacterium and Streptomyces species. It was found that the endophytic actinobacterial population of the wheat plants contained a higher diversity of endophytic actinobacteria than reported previously, and that this diversity varied significantly among different field soils. The endophytic actinobacteria have previously been shown to protect wheat from disease and enhance growth when coated onto the seed before sowing. As the endophytes isolated were recognised as potential biocontrol agents, the impact on the indigenous endophytic microbial population was investigated. Utilising the T-RFLP technique it was established that the use of a commercial microbial inoculant, containing a large number of soil bacterial and fungal strains applied to the soil, disrupts the indigenous endophyte population present in the wheat roots. The hypothesis is that non-indigenous microbes proliferate and dominate in the soil preventing a number of endophytic-competent actinobacterial genera from access to the seed and ultimately endophytic colonisation of the wheat roots. This dramatically reduces diversity of endophytes and level of colonisation. In contrast the use of a single endophytic actinobacteria endophyte inoculant results in a 3-fold increase in colonisation by the added inoculant, but does not significantly affect this indigenous population. Colonisation of healthy plant tissues with fungal endophytes has been shown to improve the competitive fitness with enhanced tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress and improved resistance to pathogens and herbivores. In this study the fungal endophyte population of wheat plants grown in four different soils was analysed using partial sequencing of 18S rRNA gene sequences. Sequence anlaysis of clones revealed a diverse range of fungal endophytes. In this diverse range of fungal endophytes a number sequences were highly similar to those of previously known fungal phytopathogens. A number of sequences detected were similar to fungal species previously identified in soil or plant material but not as endophytes. The remaining sequences were similar to fungal species without a known relationship with plants. Plants have developed an inducible mechanism of defence against pathogens. In addition to local responses plants have developed a mechanism to protect uninfected tissue through a signal that spreads systemically inducing changes in gene expression. In the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana activation of the Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR) pathway and the Jasmonate (JA)/Ethylene (ET) pathway is characterised by the production of pathogenesis-related (PR) and antimicrobial proteins resulting in systemic pathogen resistance. Endophytic actinobacteria, isolated from healthy wheat roots in our laboratory, have been shown to enhance disease resistance to multiple pathogens in wheat when coated onto the seed before sowing. Real Time RT-PCR was used to determine if key genes in the SAR and JA/ET pathways were induced in response to inoculation with endophytic actinobacteria. Inoculation of wild-type Arabidopsis thaliana with selected strains of endophytic actinobacteria was able to �prime� the defence pathways by inducing low level expression of SAR and JA/ET genes. Upon pathogen infection the defence-genes are strongly up-regulated and the endophyte coated plants had significantly higher expression of these genes compared to un-inoculated plants. Resistance to the bacterial pathogen Erwinia carotovora subsp. carotovora was mediated by the JA/ET pathway whereas the fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum triggered primarily the SAR pathway. Further analysis of the endophytic actinobacteria-mediated resistance was performed using the Streptomyces sp. EN27 and Arabidopsis defence-compromised mutants. It was found that resistance to E. carotovora subsp. carotovora mediated by Streptomyces sp. EN27 occurred via a NPR1-independent pathway and required salicylic acid whereas the jasmonic acid and ethylene signalling molecules were not essential. In contrast resistance to F. oxysporum mediated by Streptomyces sp. EN27 occurred via a NPR1-dependent pathway but also required salicylic acid and was JA- and ET-independent. This research demonstrated that inoculating wheat with endophytic actinobacteria does not disrupt the indigenous endophytic population and may be inducing systemic resistance by activating defence pathways which lead to the expression of antimicrobial genes and resistance to a broad range of pathogens.

Keywords: actinobacteria,Streptomyces,endophytic,T-RFLP,arabidopsis,wheat,systemic acquired resistance,induced systemic resistance,real-time PCR

Subject: Biotechnology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2006
School: School of Medicine
Supervisor: N/A