In through the Out Door: A Functional Virulence Factor Secretion System Is Necessary for Phage Infection in Ralstonia solanacearum

mBio. 2022 Oct 31;e0147522. doi: 10.1128/mbio.01475-22. Online ahead of print.


Bacteriophages put intense selective pressure on microbes, which must evolve diverse resistance mechanisms to survive continuous phage attacks. We used a library of spontaneous Bacteriophage Insensitive Mutants (BIMs) to learn how the plant pathogen Ralstonia solanacearum resists the virulent lytic podophage phiAP1. Phenotypic and genetic characterization of many BIMs suggested that the R. solanacearum Type II Secretion System (T2SS) plays a key role in phiAP1 infection. Using precision engineered mutations that permit T2SS assembly but either inactivate the T2SS GspE ATPase or sterically block the secretion portal, we demonstrated that phiAP1 needs a functional T2SS to infect R. solanacearum. This distinction between the static presence of T2SS components, which is necessary but not sufficient for phage sensitivity, and the energized and functional T2SS, which is sufficient, implies that binding interactions alone cannot explain the role of the T2SS in phiAP1 infection. Rather, our results imply that some aspect of the resetting of the T2SS, such as disassembly of the pseudopilus, is required. Because R. solanacearum secretes multiple virulence factors via the T2SS, acquiring resistance to phiAP1 also dramatically reduced R. solanacearum virulence on tomato plants. This acute fitness trade-off suggests this group of phages may be a sustainable control strategy for an important crop disease. IMPORTANCE Ralstonia solanacearum is a destructive plant pathogen that causes lethal bacterial wilt disease in hundreds of diverse plant hosts, including many economically important crops. Phages that kill R. solanacearum could offer effective and environmentally friendly wilt disease control, but only if the bacterium cannot easily evolve resistance. Encouragingly, most R. solanacearum mutants resistant to the virulent lytic phage phiAP1 no longer secreted multiple virulence factors and had much reduced fitness and virulence on tomato plants. Further analysis revealed that phage phiAP1 needs a functional type II secretion system to infect R. solanacearum, suggesting this podophage uses a novel infection mechanism.

Keywords: Ralstonia solanacearum; bacterial wilt; fitness cost; general secretion pathway; phage resistance; pseudopilin; virus-host interactions.