Bacterial antagonism, responsible for biological control, may operate by antiobiosis, competition or parasitism. Parasitism relies on lytic enzymes for the degradation of cell walls of pathogenic fungi. Serratia marcescens was found to be an efficient biocontrol agent of Sclerotium rolfsii and Rhizoctonia solani under greenhouse conditions. Populations of 105 or 106 colony forming units g-1 soil were the most effective. Drench and drip application of S. marcescens suspension were more effective in controlling S. rolfsii than spraying, mixing in soil or seed coating. The highest population density of the bacteria in the rhizosphere was found on the proximal portion of the root, decreasing significantly until the tips, where it increased again. The isolated Serratia, found to possess chitinolytic activity, was able to release N-acetyl D-glucosamine from cell walls of S. rolfsii. The gene coding for chitinase was cloned into Escherichia coli and the enzyme was uniquely excreted from the bacterium into its growth medium. When S. rolfsii was sprayed by partially purified chitinase produced by the cloned gene, rapid and extensive bursting of the hyphal tips was observed. This chitinase preparation was effective in reducing disease incidence caused by S. rolfsii in beans and R. solani in cotton, under greenhouse conditions. A similar effect was obtained when a viable E. coli cell, containing the plasmid with the chitinase gene (pLCHIA), was applied. It appears that genetic engineering of the lytic enzymes, such as chitinase which play an important role in plant disease control, may improve the efficacy of biocontrol agents.
- Serratia marcescens
- biological control