Bacterial endophytes from wild and ancient maize are able to suppress the fungal pathogen Sclerotinia
Aims: The aim of this study was to determine if endophytes from wild and ancient Zea plants (corn family) have anti‐fungal activities, specifically against the most important fungal pathogen (Sclerotinia homoeocarpa) of creeping bentgrass, a relative of Zea, used here as a model grass. Methods and Results: A library of 190 bacterial endophytes from wild, ancient and modern Zea plants were tested for their ability to suppress S. homoeocarpa in vitro, followed by in planta testing of candidates using greenhouse trials. Three endophytes could suppress S. homoeocarpa, originating from wild maize and an ancient Mexican landrace, consistent with our hypothesis. 16S phylogenetic analysis and BOX‐PCR DNA fingerprinting suggest that the anti‐fungal endophytes are distinct strains of Burkholderia gladioli. One strain (3A12) was confirmed to colonize creeping bentgrass using green fluorescent protein (GFP) tagging. Evans blue vitality staining demonstrated that the bacterial endophytes exhibited fungicidal activities against the pathogen. The endophytes inhibited a wide spectrum of plant‐associated fungi including diverse crop pathogens. Conclusions: The results support the hypothesis that wild and ancient Zea genotypes host bacterial endophytes that can control fungal pathogen(s). Significance and Impact of the Study: These results suggest that wild and ancient crops may be an unexplored reservoir of anti‐fungal bacterial endophytes.