Oomycetes attack a huge variety of economically and ecologically important plants. These pathogens release, detect and respond to signal molecules to coordinate their communal behaviors including the infection process. When signal molecules are present at or above threshold level, single zoospores can infect plants. However, at the beginning of a growing season population densities of individual species are likely below those required to reach a quorum and produce threshold levels of signal molecules to trigger infection. It is unclear whether these molecules are shared among related species and what their chemistries are.
Zoospore-free fluids (ZFF) from Phytophthora capsici, P. hydropathica, P. nicotianae (ZFFnic), P. sojae (ZFFsoj) and Pythium aphanidermatum were cross tested for stimulating plant infection in three pathosystems. All ZFFs tested significantly increased infection of Catharanthus roseus by P. nicotianae. Similar cross activities were observed in infection of Lupinus polyphyllus and Glycine max by P. sojae. Only ZFFnic and ZFFsoj cross induced zoospore aggregation at a density of 2 × 103 ml-1. Pure autoinducer-2 (AI-2), a component in ZFF, caused zoospore lysis of P. nicotianae before encystment and did not stimulate plant infection at concentrations from 0.01 to 1000 μM. P. capsici transformants with a transiently silenced AI-2 synthase gene, ribose phosphate isomerase (RPI), infected Capsicum annuum seedlings at the same inoculum concentration as the wild type. Acyl-homoserine lactones (AHLs) were not detected in any ZFFs. After freeze-thaw treatments, ZFF remained active in promoting plant infection but not zoospore aggregation. Heat treatment by boiling for 5 min also did not affect the infection-stimulating property of ZFFnic.
Oomycetes produce and use different molecules to regulate zoospore aggregation and plant infection. We found that some of these signal molecules could act in an inter-specific manner, though signals for zoospore aggregation were somewhat restricted. This self-interested cooperation among related species gives individual pathogens of the same group a competitive advantage over pathogens and microbes from other groups for limited resources. These findings help to understand why these pathogens often are individually undetectable until severe disease epidemics have developed. The signal molecules for both zoospore aggregation and plant infection are distinct from AI-2 and AHL.