Background: Photorhabdus are Gram negative bacteria that are pathogenic to insect larvae whilst also having a mutualistic interaction with nematodes from the family Heterorhabditis. Iron is an essential nutrient and bacteria have different mechanisms for obtaining both the ferrous (Fe2+) and ferric (Fe3+) forms of this metal from their environments. In this study we were interested in analyzing the role of Fe3+ and Fe2+ iron uptake systems in the ability of Photorhabdus to interact with its invertebrate hosts.
Results: We constructed targeted deletion mutants of exbD, feoABC and yfeABCD in P. luminescens TT01. The exbD mutant was predicted to be crippled in its ability to obtain Fe3+ and we show that this mutant does not grow well in iron-limited media. We also show that this mutant was avirulent to the insect but was unaffected in its symbiotic interaction with Heterorhabditis. Furthermore we show that a mutation in feoABC (encoding a predicted Fe2+ permease) was unaffected in both virulence and symbiosis whilst the divalent cation transporter encoded by yfeABCD is required for virulence in the Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera) but not in the Greater Wax Moth, Galleria mellonella (Lepidoptera). Moreover the Yfe transporter also appears to have a role during colonization of the IJ stage of the nematode.
Conclusion: In this study we show that iron uptake (via the TonB complex and the Yfe transporter) is important for the virulence of P. luminescens to insect larvae. Moreover this study also reveals that the Yfe transporter appears to be involved in Mn2+-uptake during growth in the gut lumen of the IJ nematode. Therefore, the Yfe transporter in P. luminescens TT01 is important during colonization of both the insect and nematode and, moreover, the metal ion transported by this pathway is host-dependent.