Citrus greening, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), is caused by the unculturable bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter spp. (e.g., CLas), and has caused a devastating decline in citrus production in many areas of the world. As of yet, there are no definitive treatments for controlling the disease. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) that have the potential to block secretion-dependent effector proteins at the outer-membrane domains were screened in silico. Predictions of drug-receptor interactions were built using multiple in silico techniques, including molecular docking analysis, molecular dynamics, molecular mechanics generalized Born surface area analysis, and principal component analysis. The efflux pump TolC of the Type 1 secretion system interacted with natural bacteriocin plantaricin JLA-9, blocking the β barrel. The trajectory-based principal component analysis revealed the possible binding mechanism of the peptides. Furthermore, in vitro assays using two closely related culturable surrogates of CLas (Liberibacter crescens and Rhizobium spp.) showed that Plantaricin JLA-9 and two other screened AMPs inhibited bacterial growth and caused mortality. The findings contribute to designing effective therapies to manage plant diseases associated with Candidatus Liberibacter spp.
AbstractA major bottleneck in identifying therapies to control citrus greening and other devastating plant diseases caused by fastidious pathogens is our inability to culture the pathogens in defined media or axenic cultures. As such, conventional approaches for antimicrobial evaluation (genetic or chemical) rely on time-consuming, low-throughput and inherently variable whole-plant assays. Here, we report that plant hairy roots support the growth of fastidious pathogens like Candidatus Liberibacter spp., the presumptive causal agents of citrus greening, potato zebra chip and tomato vein greening diseases. Importantly, we leverage the microbial hairy roots for rapid, reproducible efficacy screening of multiple therapies. We identify six antimicrobial peptides, two plant immune regulators and eight chemicals which inhibit Candidatus Liberibacter spp. in plant tissues. The antimicrobials, either singly or in combination, can be used as near- and long-term therapies to control citrus greening, potato zebra chip and tomato vein greening diseases.