Susceptibility of Caenorhabditis elegans to Burkholderia infection depends on prior diet and secreted bacterial attractants

PLoS One. 2009 Nov 23;4(11):e7961. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007961.


The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans may be killed by certain pathogenic bacteria and thus is a model organism for studying interactions between bacteria and animal hosts. However, growing nematodes on prey bacteria may influence their susceptibility to potential pathogens. A method of axenic nematode culture was developed to isolate and quantify interactions between C. elegans and potentially pathogenic strains of the Burkholderia cepacia complex. Studying these dynamics in liquid solution rather than on agar surfaces minimized nematode avoidance behavior and resolved more differences among isolates. Most isolates of B. cenocepacia, B. ambifaria and B. cepacia caused 60-80% mortality of nematodes after 7 days, whereas isolates of B. multivorans caused less mortality (<25%) and supported nematode reproduction. However, some B. cenocepacia isolates recovered from chronic infections were much less virulent (5-28% mortality). As predicted, prior diet altered the outcome of interactions between nematodes and bacteria. When given the choice between Burkholderia and E. coli as prey on agar, axenically raised nematodes initially preferred most lethal Burkholderia isolates to E. coli as a food source, but this was not the case for nematodes fed E. coli, which avoided toxic Burkholderia. This food preference was associated with the cell-free supernatant and thus secreted compounds likely mediated bacterial-nematode interactions. This model, which isolates interactions between bacteria and nematodes from the effects of prior feeding, demonstrates that bacteria can influence nematode behavior and their susceptibility to pathogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agar / chemistry
  • Animal Feed*
  • Animals
  • Burkholderia Infections / diagnosis
  • Burkholderia Infections / genetics*
  • Burkholderia cepacia / metabolism*
  • Burkholderia cepacia / pathogenicity
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Cell-Free System
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Genes, Helminth
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Phenotype
  • Time Factors
  • Virulence


  • Agar