Bacterial etiolation and decline (BED), caused by Acidovorax avenae, is an emerging disease of creeping bentgrass on golf courses in the United States. We performed the first comprehensive analysis of A. avenae on a nationwide collection of turfgrass- and maize-pathogenic A. avenae. Surprisingly, our results reveal that the turfgrass-pathogenic A. avenae in North America are not only highly divergent but also belong to two distinct phylogroups. Both phylogroups specifically infect turfgrass but are more closely related to maize pathogens than to each other. This suggests that, although the disease is only recently reported, it has likely been infecting turfgrass for a long time. To identify a genetic basis for the host specificity, we searched for genes closely related among turfgrass strains but distantly related to their homologs from maize strains. We found a cluster of 11 such genes generated by three ancient recombination events within the type III secretion system (T3SS) pathogenicity island. Ever since the recombination, the cluster has been conserved by strong purifying selection, hinting at its selective importance. Together our analyses suggest that BED is an ancient disease that may owe its host specificity to a highly conserved cluster of 11 T3SS genes.
Journal: Molecular plant-microbe interactions