Detecting Genetic Introgression: High Levels of Intersubspecific Recombination Found in Xylella fastidiosa in Brazil

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Documenting the role of novel mutation versus homologous recombination in bacterial evolution, and especially in the invasion of new hosts, is central to understanding the long-term dynamics of pathogenic bacteria. We used multilocus sequence typing (MLST) to study this issue in Xylella fastidiosa subsp. pauca from Brazil, a bacterium causing citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC) and coffee leaf scorch (CLS). All 55 citrus isolates typed (plus one coffee isolate) defined three similar sequence types (STs) dominated by ST11 (85%), while the remaining 22 coffee isolates defined two STs, mainly ST16 (74%). This low level of variation masked unusually large allelic differences (>1% divergence with no intermediates) at five loci (leuA, petC, malF, cysG, and holC). We developed an introgression test to detect whether these large differences were due to introgression via homologous recombination from another X. fastidiosa subspecies. Using additional sequencing around these loci, we established that the seven randomly chosen MLST targets contained seven regions of introgression totaling 2,172 bp of 4,161 bp (52%), only 409 bp (10%) of which were detected by other recombination tests. This high level of introgression suggests the hypothesis that X. fastidiosa subsp. pauca became pathogenic on citrus and coffee (crops cultivated in Brazil for several hundred years) only recently after it gained genetic variation via intersubspecific recombination, facilitating a switch from native hosts. A candidate donor is the subspecies infecting plum in the region since 1935 (possibly X. fastidiosa subsp. multiplex). This hypothesis predicts that nonrecombinant native X. fastidiosa subsp. pauca (not yet isolated) does not cause disease in citrus or coffee.


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  • Citrus sp.
  • Coffea arabica
  • Xylella fastidiosa
  • Xylella fastidiosa subsp. pauca


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