Underexplored Niches in Research on Plant Pathogenic Bacteria
Despite rapid advances on certain aspects of plant pathogenic bacteria, many economically important pathosystems are largely unexplored and biologically relevant life stages of even familiar systems remain poorly understood. We know remarkably little about end-stage disease, latent infections, survival away from the host, interactions among multiple microbes in a plant, and the effects of quantitative virulence factors. While no thoughtful researcher would dispute the effectiveness of reductionist experiments, we propose that this approach be combined with a broader perspective that includes the ecology, histopathology, and community population biology of phytopathogenic bacteria. We offer examples of exciting recent discoveries resulting from this natural history-based approach. In particular, in situ studies using biologically realistic inoculation followed by analyses with microscopy, gene expression profiling, community analyses, or application of key computational tools can offer new insights into old questions. Research that combines cutting-edge tools with a biological perspective is especially lacking on high-impact diseases of subsistence crops. Understanding the biology underlying important practical issues such as copper resistance, eradication from seed and cuttings, and rapid, sensitive detection could be of significant utility. Overall, we endorse a broader biological approach to research on plant pathogenic bacteria.