Bacterial Symbionts Transition Between Insect Defensive Mutualism & Plant Pathogenicity; May Be Treasure Trove of New Antibiotics

An international team of researchers has discovered a remarkable microbe with a Jekyll and Hyde character. The bacterium Burkholderia gladioli lives in specific organs of a plant-feeding beetle and defends the insect's eggs from detrimental fungi by producing antibiotics. However, when transferred to a plant, the bacterium can spread throughout the tissues and negatively affect the plant. Microbes are not always hostile players when interacting with animals and plants, they can also be powerful allies. In fact, transitions between antagonistic and cooperative lifestyles in microbes are likely not an exception, although such shifts have rarely been observed directly. In a new study published online on April 28, 2017 in Nature Communications, researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology - Hans Knöll Institute (HKI) - in Jena, and the Universidad Estadual Paulista in Rio Claro, Brazil, gathered evidence for such a transition. The open-access article is titled “Antibiotic-Producing Symbionts Dynamically Transition Between Plant Pathogenicity and Insect-Defensive Mutualism.” Like many other insects, a group of herbivorous beetles, the Lagriinae, is in great need of an efficient defense.
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