Competitive index in mixed infections: a sensitive and accurate assay for the genetic analysis of Pseudomonas syringae–plant interactions


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Mixed infections have been broadly applied to the study of bacterial pathogens in animals. However, the application of mixed infection-based methods in plant pathogens has been very limited. An important factor for this limitation is the different dynamics that mixed infections have been reported to show in the different types of models. Reports in systemic animal infections have shown that any bacterium has the same probability of multiplying within a mixed infection than in a single infection. However, in plant pathogens, bacterial growth in a mixed infection does not seem to reflect growth in a single infection, as growth interference takes place between the co-inoculated strains. Here we show that growth interference in mixed infection between different Pseudomonas syringae strains is not intrinsic to growth within a plant host, but dependent on the dose of inoculation. We also show that the minimal inoculation dose required to avoid interference depends on the aggressiveness of the pathogen as well as the type of virulence factor that differentiates the co-inoculated strains. This study establishes the basis for the use of mixed infection-based applications to the study of phytopathogenic bacteria. Analysis of the virulence of a type III effector mutant and an hrp regulatory mutant illustrate the increased accuracy and sensitivity of competitive index assays vs. regular growth assays. Several applications of this assay are addressed, and potential implications for this and other mixed infection-based methods are discussed.