Profiling the extended phenotype of plant pathogens: Challenges in Bacterial Molecular Plant Pathology.
One of the most fundamental questions in plant pathology is what determines whether a pathogen grows within a plant? This question is frequently studied in terms of the role of elicitors and pathogenicity factors in the triggering or overcoming of host defences. However, this focus fails to address the basic question of how the environment in host tissues acts to support or restrict pathogen growth. Efforts to understand this aspect of host-pathogen interactions are commonly confounded by several issues, including the complexity of the plant environment, the artificial nature of many experimental infection systems and the fact that the physiological properties of a pathogen growing in association with a plant can be very different from the properties of the pathogen in culture. It is also important to recognize that the phenotype and evolution of pathogen and host are inextricably linked through their interactions, such that the environment experienced by a pathogen within a host, and its phenotype within the host, is a product of both its interaction with its host and its evolutionary history, including its co-evolution with host plants. As the phenotypic properties of a pathogen within a host cannot be defined in isolation from the host, it may be appropriate to think of pathogens as having an 'extended phenotype' that is the product of their genotype, host interactions and population structure within the host environment. This article reflects on the challenge of defining and studying this extended phenotype, in relation to the questions posed below, and considers how knowledge of the phenotype of pathogens in the host environment could be used to improve disease control. What determines whether a pathogen grows within a plant? What aspects of pathogen biology should be considered in describing the extended phenotype of a pathogen within a host? How can we study the extended phenotype in ways that provide insights into the phenotypic properties of pathogens during natural infections?