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Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology
The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Environment
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Herzl 229
Rehovot 7610001 

Tel: 08-9489219
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Dharanishanthi, V. ; Orgad, A. ; Rotem, N. ; Hagai, E. ; Kerstnus-Banchik, J. ; Ben-Ari, J. ; Harig, T. ; Ravella, S. R. ; Schulz, S. ; Helman, Y. Bacterial-induced pH shifts link individual cell physiology to macroscale collective behavior. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 2021, 118.Abstract
Bacteria have evolved a diverse array of signaling pathways that enable them to quickly respond to environmental changes. Understanding how these pathways reflect environmental conditions and produce an orchestrated response is an ongoing challenge. Herein, we present a role for collective modifications of environmental pH carried out by microbial colonies living on a surface. We show that by collectively adjusting the local pH value, Paenibacillus spp., specifically, regulate their swarming motility. Moreover, we show that such pH-dependent regulation can converge with the carbon repression pathway to down-regulate flagellin expression and inhibit swarming in the presence of glucose. Interestingly, our results demonstrate that the observed glucose-dependent swarming repression is not mediated by the glucose molecule per se, as commonly thought to occur in carbon repression pathways, but rather is governed by a decrease in pH due to glucose metabolism. In fact, modification of the environmental pH by neighboring bacterial species could override this glucose-dependent repression and induce swarming of Paenibacillus spp. away from a glucose-rich area. Our results suggest that bacteria can use local pH modulations to reflect nutrient availability and link individual bacterial physiology to macroscale collective behavior.
Youdkes, D. ; Helman, Y. ; Burdman, S. ; Matan, O. ; Jurkevitch, E. Potential Control of Potato Soft Rot Disease by the Obligate Predators Bdellovibrio and Like Organisms. APPLIED AND ENVIRONMENTAL MICROBIOLOGY 2020, 86.Abstract
Bacterial soft rot diseases caused by Pectobacterium spp. and Dickeya spp. affect a wide range of crops, including potatoes, a major food crop. As of today, farmers mostly rely on sanitary practices, water management, and plant nutrition for control. We tested the bacterial predators Bdellovibrio and like organisms (BALOs) to control potato soft rot. BALOs are small, motile predatory bacteria found in terrestrial and aquatic environments. They prey on a wide range of Gram-negative bacteria, including animal and plant pathogens. To this end, BALO strains HD100, 1091, and a Delta merRNA derivative of HD100 were shown to efficiently prey on various rot-causing strains of Pectobacterium and Dickeya solani. BALO control of maceration caused by a highly virulent strain of Pectobacterium carotovorum subsp. brasilense was then tested in situ using a potato slice assay. All BALO strains were highly effective at reducing disease, up to complete prevention. Effectivity was concentration dependent, and BALOs applied before P. carotovorum subsp. brasilense inoculation performed significantly better than those applied after the disease-causing agent, maybe due to in situ consumption of glucose by the prey, as glucose metabolism by live prey bacteria was shown to prevent predation. Dead predators and the supernatant of BALO cultures did not significantly prevent maceration, indicating that predation was the major mechanism for the prevention of the disease. Finally, plastic resistance to predation was affected by prey and predator population parameters, suggesting that population dynamics affect prey response to predation. IMPORTANCE Bacterial soft rot diseases caused by Pectobacterium spp. and Dickeya spp. are among the most important plant diseases caused by bacteria. Among other crops, they inflict large-scale damage to potatoes. As of today, farmers have few options to control them. The bacteria Bdellovibrio and like organisms (BALOs) are obligate predators of bacteria. We tested their potential to prey on Pectobacterium spp. and Dickeya spp. and to protect potato. We show that different BALOs can prey on soft rot-causing bacteria and prevent their growth in situ, precluding tissue maceration. Dead predators and the supernatant of BALO cultures did not significantly prevent maceration, showing that the effect is due to predation. Soft rot control by the predators was concentration dependent and was higher when the predator was inoculated ahead of the prey. As residual prey remained, we investigated what determines their level and found that initial prey and predator population parameters affect prey response to predation.
Kviatkovski, I. ; Yarnitzky, T. ; Shushan, S. ; Schwartz-Harari, O. ; Nir-Paz, R. ; Helman, Y. A bacterial biosensor encoding a genetically modified LuxR receptor exhibits improved detection of Pseudomonas aeruginosa's biomarker molecule 2-aminoacetophenone. Chemical Communications 2018, 54, 9218 - 9221. Publisher's VersionAbstract
2-Aminoacetophneone (2-AA) is a volatile molecule produced in high amounts by the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. We have previously shown that 2-AA activates the quorum sensing (QS) LuxR receptor of Aliivibrio fischeri. In the present study we were able to improve LuxR's affinity and detection limit for 2-AA by genetic modification of three amino acids within the binding pocket of the receptor. Expression of the modified LuxR receptor in a luminescent bacterial biosensor provided an efficient detection assay of 2-AA in clinical P. aeruginosa strains isolated from blood and lung infections, as well as in phlegm samples obtained from subjects suffering from lung infections.
Kviatkovski, I. ; Shushan, S. ; Oron, Y. ; Frumin, I. ; Amir, D. ; Secundo, L. ; Livne, E. ; Weissbrod, A. ; Sobel, N. ; Helman, Y. Smelling Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections using a whole-cell biosensor - An alternative for the gold-standard culturing assay. J Biotechnol 2018, 267, 45-49.Abstract
Improved easy-to-use diagnostic tools for infections are in strong demand worldwide. Yet, despite dramatic advances in diagnostic technologies, the gold-standard remains culturing. Here we offer an alternative tool demonstrating that a bacterial biosensor can efficiently detect Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections in patients suffering from otitis externa. Detection was based on specific binding between the biosensor and 2-aminoacetophenone (2-AA), a volatile produced by P. aeruginosa in high amounts. We collected pus samples from ears of 26 subjects exhibiting symptoms of otitis externa. Detection of P. aeruginosa using the biosensor was compared to detection using gold-standard culturing assay and to gas-chromatograph-mass-spectrometry (GC-MS) analyses of 2-AA. The biosensor strain test matched the culture assay in 24 samples (92%) and the GC-MS analyses in 25 samples (96%). With this result in hand, we designed a device containing a whole-cell luminescent biosensor combined with a photo-multiplier tube. This device allowed detection of 2-AA at levels as low as 2 nmol, on par with detection level of GC-MS. The results of the described study demonstrate that the volatile 2-AA serves as an effective biomarker for P. aeruginosa in ear infections, and that activation of the biosensor strain by 2-AA provides a unique opportunity to design an easy-to-use device that can specifically detect P. aeruginosa infections.
Shavit, R. ; Lebendiker, M. ; Pasternak, Z. ; Burdman, S. ; Helman, Y. The vapB–vapC Operon of Acidovorax citrulli Functions as a Bona-fide Toxin–Antitoxin Module. Frontiers in Microbiology 2016, 6 1499. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Toxin–antitoxin systems are commonly found on plasmids and chromosomes of bacteria and archaea. These systems appear as biscystronic genes encoding a stable toxin and a labile antitoxin, which protects the cells from the toxin’s activity. Under specific, mostly stressful conditions, the unstable antitoxin is degraded, the toxin becomes active and growth is arrested. Using genome analysis we identified a putative toxin–antitoxin encoding system in the genome of the plant pathogen Acidovorax citrulli. The system is homologous to vapB–vapC systems from other bacterial species. PCR and phylogenetic analyses suggested that this locus is unique to group II strains of A. citrulli. Using biochemical and molecular analyses we show that A. citrulli VapBC module is a bona-fide toxin–antitoxin module in which VapC is a toxin with ribonuclease activity that can be counteracted by its cognate VapB antitoxin. We further show that transcription of the A. citrulli vapBC locus is induced by amino acid starvation, chloramphenicol and during plant infection. Due to the possible role of TA systems in both virulence and dormancy of human pathogenic bacteria, studies of these systems are gaining a lot of attention. Conversely, studies characterizing toxin–antitoxin systems in plant pathogenic bacteria are lacking. The study presented here validates the activity of VapB and VapC proteins in A. citrulli and suggests their involvement in stress response and host–pathogen interactions.