Internal colonization pathways of potato plants by Erwinia carotovora ssp. atroseptica


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Transmission of pectinolytic Erwinia species from infected mother tubers to daughter tubers has been studied mainly through detection tests, carried out at harvest, on limited samples of tubers produced by plants grown from artificially inoculated mother tubers. However, detection has not been performed on samples collected at different stages of crop development, in order to follow the contamination progress in different organs through the plants to the progeny tubers. In this study the bacterial contamination of progeny tubers was investigated by detecting Erwinia carotovora ssp. atroseptica in different symptomless plant organs (stolons, stems, progeny tubers) and in the parts with or without symptoms of diseased stems, collected at various stages of crop development. Infection levels in below- and above-ground organs of plants of two cultivars differing in their resistance to Erwinia, infected by either vacuum infiltration or sand wounding, were monitored throughout the growing season and at harvest using DAS-ELISA and PCR. Detection tests showed that healthy organs from symptomless plants were less frequently contaminated than symptomless organs from diseased plants, and that stolons were precociously and more frequently contaminated than stems and daughter tubers, irrespective of the health of the plant. Stem infections were shown to progress latently in the stem, bacteria usually being recovered 10–15 cm past visible lesions. In many cases, typical aerial stem-rot symptoms could be related to this upward movement of bacteria from the infected mother tuber. Daughter tubers without symptoms were shown to be frequently contaminated, usually at heel ends, suggesting internal contamination from mother tuber to progeny.