The Caenorhabditis elegans assay: a tool to evaluate the pathogenic potential of bacterial biocontrol agents

European Journal of Plant Pathology (Impact Factor: 1.71). 125(3):367-376. DOI: 10.1007/s10658-009-9486-3

ABSTRACT Bacterial biocontrol agents (BCAs) open up the possibility of controlling plant pathogens in an environmentally friendly way.
Although they are naturally occurring microbes, some of them can cause diseases in humans. For successful registration it
is necessary to test potentially adverse effects on the human health of at-risk candidates. Existing pathogenicity assays
are cost-intensive, time-consuming and furthermore they are often inappropriate for facultative pathogens. We developed a
new, fast and inexpensive bioassay on the basis of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which is a well-accepted model organism to study bacterial pathogenicity. A selection of eight strains from clinical and
environmental origin as well as potential and commercial BCAs from the genera Bacillus, Pseudomonas, Serratia and Stenotrophomonas were screened for their potential to kill the nematode in an in vitro agar plate assay. Furthermore, the motility and reproductive behaviour of nematodes exposed to strains were tested in comparison
with those fed by the human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa QC14-3-8 (positive control) and the negative control Escherichia coli OP50. Commercial as well as potential biocontrol strains did not display any adverse effects in all tests. In contrast, the
C. elegans assay showed slight effects for clinical and environmental Stenotrophomonas strains. Results showed that the nematode C. elegans provides a model system to indicate the pathogenic potential of BCAs in a very early stage of product development.

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