Colonization of potato plants by soilborne, green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged Dickeya sp. IPO2254 was investigated by selective plating, epifluorescence stereo microscopy (ESM), and confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). Replicated experiments were carried out in a greenhouse using plants with an intact root system and plants from which ca. 30% of the lateral roots was removed. One day after soil inoculation, adherence of the pathogen on the roots and the internal colonization of the plants were detected using ESM and CLSM of plant parts embedded in an agar medium. Fifteen days post-soil inoculation, Dickeya sp. was found on average inside 42% of the roots, 13% of the stems, and 13% of the stolons in plants with undamaged roots. At the same time-point, in plants with damaged roots, Dickeya sp. was found inside 50% of the roots, 25% of the stems, and 25% of the stolons. Thirty days postinoculation, some plants showed true blackleg symptoms. In roots, Dickeya sp. was detected in parenchyma cells of the cortex, both inter- and intracellularly. In stems, bacteria were found in xylem vessels and in protoxylem cells. Microscopical observations were confirmed by dilution spread-plating the plant extracts onto agar medium directly after harvest. The implications of infection from soilborne inoculum are discussed.
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