Colonization of Arabidopsis Thaliana with Salmonella Enterica and Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia Coli O157

Colonization of Arabidopsis thaliana with Salmonella enterica and Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Competition by Enterobacter asburiae

Michael B. Cooley, William G. Miller, and Robert E. Mandrell Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Albany, California 94710

Received 20 September 2002/ Accepted 29 May 2003


Enteric pathogens, such as Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli O157:H7, have been shown to contaminate fresh produce. Under appropriate conditions, these bacteria will grow on and invade the plant tissue. We have developed Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) as a model system with the intention of studying plant responses to human pathogens. Under sterile conditions and at 100% humidity, S. enterica serovar Newport and E. coli O157:H7 grew to 109CFU g-1 on A. thaliana roots and to 2 x 107 CFU g-1 on shoots. Furthermore, root inoculation led to contamination of the entire plant, indicating that the pathogens are capable of moving on or within the plant in the absence of competition. Inoculation with green fluorescent protein-labeled S. enterica and E. coli O157:H7 showed invasion of the roots at lateral root junctions. Movement was eliminated and invasion decreased when nonmotile mutants of S. entericawere used. Survival of S. enterica serovar Newport and E. coli O157:H7 on soil-grown plants declined as the plants matured, but both pathogens weredetectable for at least 21 days. Survival of the pathogen was reduced in unautoclaved soil and amended soil, suggesting competition from indigenous epiphytes from the soil. Enterobacter asburiae was isolated from soil-grown A. thaliana and shown to be effective at suppressing epiphytic growth of both pathogens under gnotobiotic conditions. Seed and chaff harvested from contaminated plants were occasionally contaminated. The rate of recovery of S. enterica and E. coli O157:H7 from seed varied from undetectable to 19% of the seed pools tested, depending on the method of inoculation. Seed contamination by these pathogens was undetectable in the presence of the competitor, Enterobacter asburiae. Sampling of 74 pools of chaff indicated a strong correlation between contamination of the chaff and seed (P = 0.025). This suggestedthat contamination of the seed occurred directly from contaminatedchaff or by invasion of the flower or silique. However, contaminatedseeds were not sanitized by extensive washing and chlorine treatment,indicating that some of the bacteria reside in a protected nicheon the seed surface or under the seed coat.