Production of the polyketide antimicrobial metabolite 2,4-diacetyl-phloroglucinol (DAPG) is a key factor in the biocontrol activity of Pseudomonas fluorescens CHA0. Strain CHA0 carrying a translational phlA '-' lacZ fusion was used to monitor expression of the phl biosynthetic genes in vitro and in the rhizosphere. Expression of the reporter gene accurately reflected actual production of DAPG in vitro and in planta as determined by direct extraction of the antimicrobial compound. In a gnotobiotic system containing a clay and sand-based artificial soil, reporter gene expression was significantly greater in the rhizospheres of two monocots (maize and wheat) compared with gene expression in the rhizospheres of two dicots (bean and cucumber). We observed this host genotype effect on bacterial gene expression also at the level of cultivars. Significant differences were found among six additional maize cultivars tested under gnotobiotic conditions. There was no difference between transgenic maize expressing the Bacillus thuringiensis insecticidal gene cry1Ab and the near-isogenic parent line. Plant age had a significant impact on gene expression. Using maize as a model, expression of the phlA '-' lacZ reporter gene peaked at 24 h after planting of pregerminated seedlings, and dropped to a fourth of that value within 48 h, remaining at that level throughout 22 days of plant growth. Root infection by Pythium ultimum stimulated bacterial gene expression on both cucumber and maize, and this was independent of differences in rhizosphere colonization on these host plants. To our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive evaluation of how biotic factors that commonly confront bacterial inoculants in agricultural systems (host genotype, host age, and pathogen infection) modulate the expression of key biocontrol genes for disease suppression.
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