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Population dynamics and gene transfer in genetically modified bacteria in a model microcosm


Prof. H.C.J. Godfray. Fax: 01344 873173; E-mail:


The horizontal transfer and effects on host fitness of a neutral gene cassette inserted into three different genomic loci of a plant-colonizing pseudomonad was assessed in a model ecosystem. The KX reporter cassette (kanamycin resistance, aph, and catechol 2, 3, dioxygenase, xylE) was introduced on the disarmed transposon mini-Tn5 into: (I) the chromosome of a spontaneous rifampicin resistant mutant Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25R; (II) the chromosome of SBW25R in the presence of a naturally occurring lysogenic-phage (phage Φ101); and (III) a naturally occurring plasmid pQBR11 (330 kbp, tra+, Hgr) introduced into SBW25R. These bacteria were applied to Stellaria media (chickweed) plants as seed dressings [c. 5 × 104 colony-forming units (cfu)/seed] and the seedlings planted in 16 microcosm chambers containing model plant and animal communities. Gene transfer to pseudomonads in the phyllosphere and rhizosphere was found only in the plasmid treatment (III). Bacteria in the phage treatment (II) initially declined in density and free phage was detected, but populations partly recovered as the plants matured. Surprisingly, bacteria in the chromosome insertion treatment (I) consistently achieved higher population densities than the unmanipulated control and other treatments. Plasmids were acquired from indigenous bacterial populations in the control and chromosome insertion treatments. Plasmid acquisition, plasmid transfer from inocula and selection for plasmid carrying inocula coincided with plant maturation.