- Pseudomonas is a diverse genus of Gram-negative bacteria that includes pathogens of plants, insects, and humans as well as environmental strains with no known pathogenicity. Pseudomonas fluorescens itself encompasses a heterologous group of bacteria that are prevalent in soil and on foliar and root surfaces of plants. Some strains of P. fluorescens suppress plant diseases and the genomic sequences of many biological control strains are now available. I used a combination of bioinformatic and phylogenetic analyses along with mutagenesis and biological assays to identify and compare the TonB-dependent outer-membrane proteins (TBDPs) of ten plant-associated strains of P. fluorescens and related species. TBDPs are common in Gram-negative bacteria, functioning in the uptake of ferric-siderophore complexes and other substrates into the cell. I identified 14 to 45 TBDRs in each strain of P. fluorescens or P. chlororaphis. Collectively, the ten strains have 317 TBDPs, which were grouped into 84 types based upon sequence similarity and phylogeny. As many as 13 TBDPs are unique to a single strain and some show evidence of horizontal gene transfer. Putative functions in the uptake of diverse groups of microbial siderophores, sulfur-esters, and other substrates were assigned to 28 of these TBDP types based on similarity to characterized orthologs from other Pseudomonas species. Redundancy of TBDP function was evident in certain strains of P. fluorescens, especially Pf-5, which has three TBDPs for ferrichrome/ferrioxamine uptake, two for ferric-citrate uptake and three for heme uptake.
Five TBDP types are present in all ten strains, and putative functions in heme, ferrichrome, cobalamin, and copper/zinc uptake were assigned to four of the conserved TBDPs.
The fluorescent pseudomonads are characterized by the production of pyoverdine siderophores, which are responsible for the diffusible UV fluorescence of these bacteria. Each of the ten plant-associated strains of P. fluorescens or P. chlororaphis has three to six TBDPs with putative roles in ferric-pyoverdine uptake (Fpv). To confirm the roles of the six Fpv outer membrane proteins in P. fluorescens Pf-5, I introduced deletions into each of the six fpv genes in this strain and evaluated the mutants and the parental strain for heterologous pyoverdine uptake. I identified at least one ferric-pyoverdine that was taken up by each of the six Fpv outer-membrane proteins of Pf-5. By comparing the ferric-pyoverdine uptake assay results to a phylogenetic analysis of the Fpv outer-membrane proteins, I observed that phylogenetically-related Fpv outer-membrane proteins take up structurally-related pyoverdines. I then expanded the phylogenetic analysis to include nine other strains within the P. fluorescens group, and identified five additional types of Fpv outer-membrane proteins. Using the characterized Fpv outer-membrane proteins of Pf-5 as a reference, pyoverdine substrates were predicted for many of the Fpv outer-membrane proteins in the nine other strains. Redundancy of Fpv function was evident in Pf-5, as some pyoverdines were recognized by more than one Fpv. It is apparent that heterologous pyoverdine recognition is a conserved feature, giving these ten strains flexibility in acquiring iron from the environment.
Overall, the TBDPs of the P. fluorescens group are a functionally diverse set of structurally-related proteins present in high numbers in many strains. While putative functions have been assigned to a subset of the proteins, the functions of most TBDPs remain unknown, providing targets for further investigations into nutrient uptake by P. fluorescens spp.. The work presented here provides a template for future studies using a combination of bioinformatic, phylogenetic, and molecular genetic approaches to predict and analyze the function of these TBDPs.