Bioluminescence imaging of Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis infection of tomato seeds and plants

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Jun;76(12):3978-88. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00493-10. Epub 2010 Apr 16.


Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis is a Gram-positive bacterium that causes wilting and cankers, leading to severe economic losses in commercial tomato production worldwide. The disease is transmitted from infected seeds to seedlings and mechanically from plant to plant during seedling production, grafting, pruning, and harvesting. Because of the lack of tools for genetic manipulation, very little is known regarding the mechanisms of seed and seedling infection and movement of C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis in grafted plants, two focal points for application of bacterial canker control measures in tomato. To facilitate studies on the C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis movement in tomato seed and grafted plants, we isolated a bioluminescent C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis strain using the modified Tn1409 containing a promoterless lux reporter. A total of 19 bioluminescent C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis mutants were obtained. All mutants tested induced a hypersensitive response in Mirabilis jalapa and caused wilting of tomato plants. Real-time colonization studies of germinating seeds using a virulent, stable, constitutively bioluminescent strain, BL-Cmm17, showed that C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis aggregated on hypocotyls and cotyledons at an early stage of germination. In grafted seedlings in which either the rootstock or scion was exposed to BL-Cmm17 via a contaminated grafting knife, bacteria were translocated in both directions from the graft union at higher inoculum doses. These results emphasize the use of bioluminescent C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis to help better elucidate the C. michiganensis subsp. michiganensis-tomato plant interactions. Further, we demonstrated the broader applicability of this tool by successful transformation of C. michiganensis subsp. nebraskensis with Tn1409::lux. Thus, our approach would be highly useful to understand the pathogenesis of diseases caused by other subspecies of the agriculturally important C. michiganensis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actinomycetales / genetics
  • Actinomycetales / pathogenicity*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mirabilis / microbiology
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology*
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Seeds / microbiology*
  • Solanum lycopersicum / microbiology*
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins