Attachment of the plant pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens to host plant cells is an early and necessary step in plant transformation and agroinfiltration processes. However, bacterial attachment behavior is not well understood in complex plant tissues. Here we developed an imaging-based method to observe and quantify A. tumefaciens attached to leaf tissue in situ. Fluorescent labeling of bacteria with nucleic acid, protein, and vital dyes was investigated as a rapid alternative to generating recombinant strains expressing fluorescent proteins. Syto 16 green fluorescent nucleic acid stain was found to yield the greatest signal intensity in stained bacteria without affecting viability or infectivity. Stained bacteria retained the stain and were detectable over 72 h. To demonstrate in situ detection of attached bacteria, confocal fluorescent microscopy was used to image A. tumefaciens in sections of lettuce leaf tissue following vacuum-infiltration with labeled bacteria. Bacterial signals were associated with plant cell surfaces, suggesting detection of bacteria attached to plant cells. Bacterial attachment to specific leaf tissues was in agreement with known leaf tissue competencies for transformation with Agrobacterium. Levels of bacteria attached to leaf cells were quantified over time post-infiltration. Signals from stained bacteria were stable over the first 24 h following infiltration but decreased in intensity as bacteria multiplied in planta. Nucleic acid staining of A. tumefaciens followed by confocal microscopy of infected leaf tissue offers a rapid, in situ method for evaluating attachment of A. tumefaciens' to plant expression hosts and a tool to facilitate management of transient expression processes via agroinfiltration. © 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Biotechnol. Prog., 2012
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