Pest/Pathogen of the Month: May

Scientific name: Pectobacterium

Common names: Soft rot bacteria; Soft Rot Enterobacteriaceace

Pectobacterium species, formerly known as Erwinia species, are the main causal agents of soft rot, blackleg and aerial stem rot of potatoes as well as of many other vegetables and ornamentals (Figure 1). The genus consists of many species capable of causing disease. It is a Gram-negative, opportunistic pathogen that causes tissue maceration through the production of pectinolytic enzymes that result in cell wall degradation. The pathogen is mainly spread by latently infected propagation material, although it can also be spread by contaminated irrigation water, equipment and insects. It isn’t soilborne and therefore doesn’t overwinter or survive in the soil for longer than six months in the absence of a host. The pathogen remains latent within the plant until favourable environmental conditions cause a shift from latency to disease development.  Symptom expression is dependent on quorum sensing and therefore, pectinolytic enzyme production only starts after the pathogen population reaches a critical threshold. The main environmental factor that promotes disease development is high soil moisture, which creates an anaerobic environment, favouring the growth of this facultative anaerobe.