Hydraulic consequences of enzymatic breakdown of grapevine pit membranes

Craig Brodersen and 1 other contributor

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    Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) is the xylem-dwelling bacterial agent associated with Pierce's disease (PD), which leads to significant declines in productivity in agriculturally important species like grapevine (Vitis vinifera). Xf spreads through the xylem network by digesting the pit membranes (PMs) between adjacent vessels, thereby potentially changing the hydraulic properties of the stem. However, the effects of Xf on water transport vary depending on the plant host and the infection stage, presenting diverse outcomes. Here, we investigated the effects of polygalacturonase, an enzyme known to be secreted by Xf when it produces biofilm on the PM surface, on stem hydraulic conductivity, and PM integrity. Experiments were performed on six grapevine genotypes with varying levels of PD resistance, with the expectation that PM resistance to degradation by polygalacturonase may play a role in PD resistance. Our objective was to study a single component of this pathosystem in isolation to better understand the mechanisms behind reported changes in hydraulics, thereby excluding the biological response of the plant to the presence of Xf in the vascular system. PM damage only occurred in stems perfused with polygalacturonase. Although the damaged PM area was small (2% -9% of the total pit aperture area), membrane digestion led to significant changes in the median air-seeding thresholds, and most importantly, shifted frequency distribution. Finally, enzyme perfusion also resulted in a universal reduction in stem hydraulic conductivity, suggesting the development of tyloses may not be the only contributing factor to reduced hydraulic conductivity in infected grapevine.