The phloem-restricted, insect-transmitted bacterium ‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’ (CLas) is associated with huanglongbing (HLB), the most devastating disease of citrus worldwide. The inability to culture CLas impairs the understanding of its virulence mechanisms and the development of effective management strategies to control this incurable disease. Previously, our research group used commercial grapefruit juice (GJ) to prolong the viability of CLas in vitro. In the present study, GJ was amended with a wide range of compounds and incubated under different conditions to optimize CLas growth. Remarkably, results showed that CLas growth ratios were inversely proportional to the initial inoculum concentration. This correlation is probably regulated by a cell density-dependent mechanism, because diluting samples between subcultures allowed CLas to resume growth. Moreover, strategies to reduce the cell density of CLas, such as subculturing at short intervals and incubating samples under flow conditions, allowed this bacterium to multiply and reach maximum growth as early as 3 days after inoculation, although no sustained exponential growth was observed under any tested condition. Unfortunately, cultures were only transient, because CLas lost viability over time; nevertheless, we obtained populations of about 105 genome equivalents/ml repeatedly. Finally, we established an ex vivo system to grow CLas within periwinkle calli that could be used to propagate bacterial inoculum in the lab. In this study we determined the influence of a comprehensive set of conditions and compounds on CLas growth in culture. We hope our results will help guide future efforts toward the long-sought goal of culturing CLas axenically.
In recent decades, ‘Candidatus Liberibacter spp.’ have emerged as a versatile group of psyllid-vectored plant pathogens and endophytes capable of infecting a wide range of economically important plant hosts. The most notable example is ‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’ (CLas) associated with Huanglongbing (HLB) in several major citrus-producing areas of the world. CLas is a phloem-limited α-proteobacterium that is primarily vectored and transmitted among citrus species by the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) Diaphorina citri. HLB was first detected in North America in Florida (USA) in 2005, following introduction of the ACP to the State in 1998. HLB rapidly spread to all citrus growing regions of Florida within three years, with severe economic consequences to growers and considerable expense to taxpayers of the state and nation. Inability to establish CLas in culture (except transiently) remains a significant scientific challenge toward effective HLB management. Lack of axenic cultures has restricted functional genomic analyses, transfer of CLas to either insect or plant hosts for fulfillment of Koch’s postulates, characterization of host-pathogen interactions and effective screening of antibacterial compounds. In the last decade, substantial progress has been made toward CLas culturing: (i) three reports of transient CLas cultures were published, (ii) a new species of Liberibacter was identified and axenically cultured from diseased mountain papaya (Liberibacter crescens strain BT-1), (iii) psyllid hemolymph and citrus phloem sap were biochemically characterized, (iv) CLas phages were identified and lytic genes possibly affecting CLas growth were described, and (v) genomic sequences of 15 CLas strains were made available. In addition, development of L. crescens as a surrogate host for functional analyses of CLas genes, has provided valuable insights into CLas pathogenesis and its physiological dependence on the host cell. In this review we summarize the conclusions from these important studies.