Erwinia amylovora Novel Plasmid pEI70: Complete Sequence, Biogeography, and Role in Aggressiveness in the Fire Blight Phytopathogen

Comparative genomics of several strains of Erwinia amylovora, a plant pathogenic bacterium causal agent of fire blight disease, revealed that its diversity is primarily attributable to the flexible genome comprised of plasmids. We recently identified and sequenced in full a novel 65.8 kb plasmid, called pEI70. Annotation revealed a lack of known virulence-related genes, but found evidence for a unique integrative conjugative element related to that of other plant and human pathogens. Comparative analyses using BLASTN showed that pEI70 is almost entirely included in plasmid pEB102 from E. billingiae, an epiphytic Erwinia of pome fruits, with sequence identities superior to 98%. A duplex PCR assay was developed to survey the prevalence of plasmid pEI70 and also that of pEA29, which had previously been described in several E. amylovora strains. Plasmid pEI70 was found widely dispersed across Europe with frequencies of 5–92%, but it was absent in E. amylovora analyzed populations from outside of Europe. Restriction analysis and hybridization demonstrated that this plasmid was identical in at least 13 strains. Curing E. amylovora strains of pEI70 reduced their aggressiveness on pear, and introducing pEI70 into low-aggressiveness strains lacking this plasmid increased symptoms development in this host. Discovery of this novel plasmid offers new insights into the biogeography, evolution and virulence determinants in E. amylovora ​
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