Out of the ground: Aerial and exotic habitats of the melioidosis bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei in grasses in Australia

Mirjam Kaestli, Michael Schmid, Mark Mayo, Michael Rothballer, Glenda Harrington, Leisha Richardson, Audrey Hill, Jason Hill, Apichai Tuanyok, Paul Keim, Anton Hartmann, Bart J. Currie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Melioidosis is an emerging infectious disease of humans and animals in the tropics caused by the soil bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. Despite high fatality rates, the ecology of B. pseudomallei remains unclear. We used a combination of field and laboratory studies to investigate B. pseudomallei colonization of native and exotic grasses in northern Australia. Multivariable and spatial analyses were performed to determine significant predictors for B. pseudomallei occurrence in plants and soil collected longitudinally from field sites. In plant inoculation experiments, the impact of B. pseudomallei upon these grasses was studied and the bacterial load semi-quantified. Fluorescence in situ hybridization and confocal laser scanning microscopy were performed to localize the bacteria in plants. Burkholderia pseudomallei was found to inhabit not only the rhizosphere and roots but also aerial parts of specific grasses. This raises questions about the potential spread of B. pseudomallei by grazing animals whose droppings were found to be positive for these bacteria. In particular, B. pseudomallei readily colonized exotic grasses introduced to Australia for pasture. The ongoing spread of these introduced grasses creates new habitats suitable for B. pseudomallei survival and may be an important factor in the evolving epidemiology of melioidosis seen both in northern Australia and elsewhere globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2058-2070
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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