Background and aims: Bacterial leaf scorch occurring in a number of economically important plants is caused by the xylem-limited bacterium Xylella fastidiosa (Xf). In grapevine, Xf systemic infection causes Pierce's disease and is lethal. Traditional dogma is that Xf movement between vessels requires the digestion of inter-vessel pit membranes. However, Yersinia enterocolitica (Ye) (a bacterium found in animals) and fluorescent beads moved rapidly within grapevine xylem from stem into leaf lamina, suggesting open conduits consisting of long, branched xylem vessels for passive movement. This study builds on and expands previous observations on the nature of these conduits and how they affect Xf movement.
Methods: Air, latex paint and green fluorescence protein (GFP)-Xf were loaded into leaves and followed to confirm and identify these conduits. Leaf xylem anatomy was studied to determine the basis for the free and sometimes restricted movement of Ye, beads, air, paint and GFP-Xf into the lamina.
Key results: Reverse loading experiments demonstrated that long, branched xylem vessels occurred exclusively in primary xylem. They were observed in the stem for three internodes before diverging into mature leaves. However, this stem-leaf connection was an age-dependent character and was absent for the first 10-12 leaves basal to the apical meristem. Free movement in leaf blade xylem was cell-type specific with vessels facilitating movement in the body of the blade and tracheids near the leaf margin. Air, latex paint and GFP-Xf all moved about 50-60% of the leaf length. GFP-Xf was never observed close to the leaf margin.
Conclusions: The open vessels of the primary xylem offered unimpeded long distance pathways bridging stem to leaves, possibly facilitating the spread of bacterial pathogens in planta. GFP-Xf never reached the leaf margins where scorching appeared, suggesting a signal targeting specific cells or a toxic build-up at hydathodes.