Phytopathogens have evolved specialized pathogenicity determinants that enable them to colonize their specific plant hosts and cause disease, but their intimate associations with plants also predispose them to frequent encounters with herbivorous insects, providing these phytopathogens with ample opportunity to colonize and eventually evolve alternative associations with insects. Decades of research have revealed that these associations have resulted in the formation of bacterial-vector relationships, in which the insect mediates dissemination of the plant pathogen. Emerging research, however, has highlighted the ability of plant pathogenic bacteria to use insects as alternative hosts, exploiting them as they would their primary plant host. The identification of specific bacterial genetic determinants that mediate the interaction between bacterium and insect suggests that these interactions are not incidental, but have likely arisen following the repeated association of microorganisms with particular insects over evolutionary time. This review will address the biology and ecology of phytopathogenic bacteria that interact with insects, including the traditional role of insects as vectors, as well as the newly emerging paradigm of insects serving as alternative primary hosts. Also discussed is one case where an insect serves as both host and vector, which may represent a transitionary stage in the evolution of insect-phytopathogen associations.
© 2011 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.