A large number of strains in the Rhizobium radiobacter species complex (biovar 1 Agrobacterium) have been known as causative pathogens for crown gall and hairy root diseases. Strains within this complex were also found as endophytes in many plant species with no symptoms. The aim of this study was to reveal the endophyte variation of this complex and how these endophytic strains differ from pathogenic strains. In this study, we devised a simple but effective screening method by exploiting the high resolution power of mass spectrometry. We screened endophyte isolates from young wheat and barley plants, which are resistant to the diseases, and identified seven isolates from wheat as members of the R. radiobacter species complex. Through further analyses, we assigned five strains to the genomovar (genomic group) G1 and two strains to G7 in R. radiobacter Notably, these two genomovar groups harbor many known pathogenic strains. In fact, the two G7 endophyte strains showed pathogenicity on tobacco, as well as the virulence prerequisites, including a 200-kbp Ri plasmid. All five G1 strains possessed a 500-kbp plasmid, which is present in well-known crown gall pathogens. These data strongly suggest that healthy wheat plants are reservoirs for pathogenic strains of R. radiobacter IMPORTANCE Crown gall and hairy root diseases exhibit very wide host-plant ranges that cover gymnosperm and dicot plants. The Rhizobium radiobacter species complex harbors causative agents of the two diseases. Recently, endophyte isolates from many plant species have been assigned to this species complex. We isolated seven endophyte strains belonging to the species complex from wheat plants and revealed their genomovar affiliations and plasmid profile. The significance of this study is the finding of the genomovar correlation between the endophytes and the known pathogens, the presence of a virulence ability in two of the seven endophyte strains, and the high ratio of the pathogenic strains in the endophyte strains. This study therefore provides convincing evidence that could unravel the mechanism that maintains pathogenic agents of this species and sporadically delivers them to susceptible plants.
Keywords: Agrobacterium; Rhizobium; Triticum aestivum; endophyte; pathogenesis; plant disease; plasmid; symbiosis; virulence; wheat.
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