Live tracking of a plant pathogen outbreak reveals rapid and successive, multidecade plasmid reduction

mSystems. 2024 Feb 20;9(2):e0079523. doi: 10.1128/msystems.00795-23. Epub 2024 Jan 26.


Quickly understanding the genomic changes that lead to pathogen emergence is necessary to launch mitigation efforts and reduce harm. In this study, we tracked in real time a 2022 bacterial plant disease outbreak in U.S. geraniums (Pelargonium × hortorum) caused by Xhp2022, a novel lineage of Xanthomonas hortorum. Genomes from 31 Xhp2022 isolates from seven states showed limited chromosomal variation and all contained a single plasmid (p93). Time tree and single nucleotide polymorphism whole-genome analysis estimated that Xhp2022 emerged within the last decade. The phylogenomic analysis determined that p93 resulted from the cointegration of three plasmids (p31, p45, and p66) found sporadically across isolates from previous outbreaks. Although p93 had a 49 kb nucleotide reduction, it retained putative fitness genes, which became predominant in the 2022 outbreak. Overall, we demonstrated, through rapid whole-genome sequencing and analysis, a recent, traceable event of genome reduction for niche adaptation typically observed over millennia in obligate and fastidious pathogens.IMPORTANCEThe geranium industry, valued at $4 million annually, faces an ongoing Xanthomonas hortorum pv. pelargonii (Xhp) pathogen outbreak. To track and describe the outbreak, we compared the genome structure across historical and globally distributed isolates. Our research revealed Xhp population has not had chromosome rearrangements since 1974 and has three distinct plasmids. In 2012, we found all three plasmids in individual Xhp isolates. However, in 2022, the three plasmids co-integrated into one plasmid named p93. p93 retained putative fitness genes but lost extraneous genomic material. Our findings show that the 2022 strain group of the bacterial plant pathogen Xanthomonas hortorum underwent a plasmid reduction. We also observed several Xanthomonas species from different years, hosts, and continents have similar plasmids to p93, possibly due to shared agricultural settings. We noticed parallels between genome efficiency and reduction that we see across millennia with obligate parasites with increased niche specificity.

Keywords: WGS; Xanthomonas hortorum; genome structure; plasmid.

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Genomics
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Xanthomonas* / genetics

Supplementary concepts

  • Xanthomonas hortorum