Biocontrol agents promote growth of potato pathogens, depending on environmental conditions

Jonathan A. Cray, Mairead C. Connor, Andrew Stevenson, Jonathan D. R. Houghton, Drauzio E. N. Rangel, Louise R. Cooke, John E. Hallsworth

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47 Citations (Scopus)
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There is a pressing need to understand and optimize biological control so as to avoid over-reliance on the synthetic chemical pesticides that can damage environmental and human health. This study focused on interactions between a novel biocontrol-strain, Bacillus sp. JC12GB43, and potato-pathogenic Phytophthora and Fusarium species. In assays carried out in vitro and on the potato tuber, the bacterium was capable of near-complete inhibition of pathogens. This Bacillus was sufficiently xerotolerant (water activity limit for growth = 0.928) to out-perform Phytophthora infestans (~0.960) and challenge Fusarium coeruleum (~0.847) and Fusarium sambucinum (~0.860) towards the lower limits of their growth windows. Under some conditions, however, strain JC12GB43 stimulated proliferation of the pathogens: for instance, Fusarium coeruleum growth-rate was increased under chaotropic conditions in vitro (132 mM urea) by >100% and on tubers (2-M glycerol) by up to 570%. Culture-based assays involving macromolecule-stabilizing (kosmotropic) compatible solutes provided proof-of-principle that the Bacillus may provide kosmotropic metabolites to the plant pathogen under conditions that destabilize macromolecular systems of the fungal cell. Whilst unprecedented, this finding is consistent with earlier reports that fungi can utilize metabolites derived from bacterial cells. Unless the antimicrobial activities of candidate biocontrol strains are assayed over a full range of field-relevant parameters, biocontrol agents may promote plant pathogen infections and thereby reduce crop yields. These findings indicate that biocontrol activity, therefore, ought to be regarded as a mode-of-behaviour (dependent on prevailing conditions) rather than an inherent property of a bacterial strain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-354
Number of pages25
JournalMicrobial Biotechnology
Early online date16 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Antibiosis
  • Bacillus
  • Fusarium
  • Pest Control, Biological
  • Phytophthora infestans
  • Plant Diseases
  • Solanum tuberosum
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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