The rhizobacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens CHA0 promotes the growth of various crop plants and protects them against root diseases caused by pathogenic fungi. The main mechanism of disease suppression by this strain is the production of the antifungal compounds 2,4-diacetylphloroglucinol (DAPG) and pyoluteorin (PLT). Direct plant growth promotion can be achieved through solubilization of inorganic phosphates by the production of organic acids, mainly gluconic acid, which is one of the principal acids produced by Pseudomonas spp. The aim of this study was to elucidate the role of gluconic acid production in CHA0. Therefore, mutants were created with deletions in the genes encoding glucose dehydrogenase (gcd) and gluconate dehydrogenase (gad), required for the conversion of glucose to gluconic acid and gluconic acid to 2-ketogluconate, respectively. These enzymes should be of predominant importance for rhizosphere-colonizing biocontrol bacteria, as major carbon sources provided by plant root exudates are made up of glucose. Our results show that the ability of strain CHA0 to acidify its environment and to solubilize mineral phosphate is strongly dependent on its ability to produce gluconic acid. Moreover, we provide evidence that the formation of gluconic acid by CHA0 completely inhibits the production of PLT and partially inhibits that of DAPG. In the gcd mutant, which does not produce gluconic acid, the enhanced production of antifungal compounds was associated with improved biocontrol activity against take-all disease of wheat, caused by Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici. This study provides new evidence for a close association of gluconic acid metabolism with antifungal compound production and biocontrol activity in P. fluorescens CHA0.
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