Genome analyses of marine microbial communities have revealed the widespread occurrence of genomic islands (GIs), many of which encode for protein secretion machineries described in the context of bacteria-eukaryote interactions. Yet experimental support for the specific roles of such GIs in aquatic community interactions remains scarce. Here, we test for the contribution of type III secretion systems (T3SS) to the environmental fitness of epidemic Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Comparisons of V. parahaemolyticus wild types and T3SS-defective mutants demonstrate that the T3SS encoded on genome island VPaI-7 (T3SS-2) promotes survival of V. parahaemolyticus in the interaction with diverse protist taxa. Enhanced persistence was found to be due to T3SS-2 mediated cytotoxicity and facultative parasitism of V. parahaemolyticus on coexisting protists. Growth in the presence of bacterivorous protists and the T3SS-2 genotype showed a strong correlation across environmental and clinical isolates of V. parahaemolyticus. Short-term microcosm experiments provide evidence that protistan hosts facilitate the invasion of T3SS-2 positive V. parahaemolyticus into a coastal plankton community, and that water temperature and productivity further promote enhanced survival of T3SS-2 positive V. parahaemolyticus. This study is the first to describe the fitness advantage of GI-encoded functions in a microbial food web, which may provide a mechanistic explanation for the global spread and the seasonal dynamics of V. parahaemolyticus pathotypes, including the pandemic serotype cluster O3:K6, in aquatic environments.
Matz, C., Nouri, B., McCarter, L., & Martinez-Urtaza, J. (2011). Acquired type III secretion system determines environmental fitness of epidemic vibrio parahaemolyticus in the interaction with bacterivorous protists. PLoS ONE, 6(5), [e20275]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0020275