Two Leucobacter strains exert complementary virulence on Caenorhabditis including death by worm-star formation.
Hodgkin J., Félix M-A., Clark LC., Stroud D., Gravato-Nobre MJ.
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has been much studied as a host for microbial infection. Some pathogens can infect its intestine, while others attack via its external surface. Cultures of Caenorhabditis isolated from natural environments have yielded new nematode pathogens, such as microsporidia and viruses. We report here a novel mechanism for bacterial attack on worms, discovered during investigation of a diseased and coinfected natural isolate of Caenorhabditis from Cape Verde. Two related coryneform pathogens (genus Leucobacter) were obtained from this isolate, which had complementary effects on C. elegans and related nematodes. One pathogen, Verde1, was able to cause swimming worms to stick together irreversibly by their tails, leading to the rapid formation of aggregated "worm-stars." Adult worms trapped in these aggregates were immobilized and subsequently died, with concomitant growth of bacteria. Trapped larval worms were sometimes able to escape from worm-stars by undergoing autotomy, separating their bodies into two parts. The other pathogen, Verde2, killed worms after rectal invasion, in a more virulent version of a previously studied infection. Resistance to killing by Verde2, by means of alterations in host surface glycosylation, resulted in hypersensitivity to Verde1, revealing a trade-off in bacterial susceptibility. Conversely, a sublethal surface infection of worms with Verde1 conferred partial protection against Verde2. The formation of worm-stars by Verde1 occurred only when worms were swimming in liquid but provides a striking example of asymmetric warfare as well as a bacterial equivalent to the trapping strategies used by nematophagous fungi.