Bacteria released in large numbers for biocontrol or bioremediation purposes might exchange genes with other microorganisms. Two model systems were designed to investigate the likelihood of such an exchange and some factors which govern the conjugative exchange of chromosomal genes between root-colonizing pseudomonads in the rhizosphere of wheat. The first model consisted of the biocontrol strain CHA0 of Pseudomonas fluorescens and transposon facilitated recombination (Tfr). A conjugative IncP plasmid loaded, with transposon Tn5, in a CHA0 derivative carrying a chromosomal Tn5 insertion, promoted chromosome transfer to auxotrophic CHA0 recipients in vitro. A chromosomal marker (pro) was transferred at a frequency of about 10(-6) per donor on wheat roots under gnotobiotic conditions, provided that the Tfr donor and recipient populations each contained 10(6) to 10(7) CFU per g of root. In contrast, no conjugative gene transfer was detected in soil, illustrating that the root surface stimulates conjugation. The second model system was based on the genetically well-characterized strain PAO of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the chromosome mobilizing IncP plasmid R68.45. Although originally isolated from a human wound, strain PAO1 was found to be an excellent root colonizer, even under natural, nonsterile conditions. Matings between an auxotrophic R68.45 donor and auxotrophic recipients produced prototrophic chromosomal recombinants at 10(-4) to 10(-5) per donor on wheat roots in artificial soil under gnotobiotic conditions and at about 10(-6) per donor on wheat roots in natural, nonsterile soil microcosms after 2 weeks of incubation. The frequencies of chromosomal recombinants were as high as or higher than the frequencies of R68.45 transconjugants, reflecting mainly the selective growth advantage of the prototrophic recombinants over the auxotrophic parental strains in the rhizosphere. Although under field conditions the formation of chromosomal recombinants is expected to be reduced by several factors, we conclude that chromosomal genes, whether present naturally or introduced by genetic modification, may be transmissible between rhizosphere bacteria.
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