The role of phenotypic variation in rhizosphere Pseudomonas bacteria

Environ Microbiol. 2005 Nov;7(11):1686-97. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2005.00912.x.


Colony phase variation is a regulatory mechanism at the DNA level which usually results in high frequency, reversible switches between colonies with a different phenotype. A number of molecular mechanisms underlying phase variation are known: slipped-strand mispairing, genomic rearrangements, spontaneous mutations and epigenetic mechanisms such as differential methylation. Most examples of phenotypic variation or phase variation have been described in the context of host-pathogen interactions as mechanisms allowing pathogens to evade host immune responses. Recent reports indicate that phase variation is also relevant in competitive root colonization and biological control of phytopathogens. Many rhizospere Pseudomonas species show phenotypic variation, based on spontaneous mutation of the gacA and gacS genes. These morphological variants do not express secondary metabolites and have improved growth characteristics. The latter could contribute to efficient root colonization and success in competition, especially since (as shown for one strain) these variants were observed to revert to their wild-type form. The observation that these variants are present in rhizosphere-competent Pseudomonas bacteria suggests the existence of a conserved strategy to increase their success in the rhizosphere.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • DNA Methylation
  • Gene Rearrangement / genetics
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phenotype*
  • Plant Roots / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas / genetics
  • Pseudomonas / growth & development*
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • GacA protein, Bacteria
  • Transcription Factors
  • lemA protein, bacterial