Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Forty-seven numerically dominant 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D)-degrading bacteria were isolated at different times from 1989 through 1992 from eight agricultural plots (3.6 by 9.1 m) which were either not treated with 2,4-D or treated with 2,4-D at three different concentrations. Isolates were obtained from the most dilute positive most-probable-number tubes inoculated with soil samples from the different plots on seven sampling dates over the 3-year period. The isolates were compared by using fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) profiles, chromosomal patterns obtained by PCR amplification of repetitive extragenic palindromic (REP) sequences, and hybridization patterns obtained with probes for the tfd genes of plasmid pJP4 and a probe (Spa probe) that detects a distinctly different 2,4-D-degrading isolate, Sphingomonas paucimobilis (formerly Pseudomonas paucimobilis). A total of 57% of the isolates were identified to the species level by the FAME analysis, and these isolates were strains of Sphingomonas, Pseudomonas, or Alcaligenes species. Hybridization analysis revealed four groups. Group I strains, which exhibited sequence homology with tfdA, -B, -C, and -D genes, were rather diverse, as determined by both the FAME analysis and the REP-PCR analysis. Group II, which exhibited homology only with the tfdA4 gene, was a small group and was probably a subset of group I. All group I and II strains had plasmids. Hybridization analysis revealed that the tfd genes were located on plasmids in 75% of these strains and on the chromosome or a large plasmid in the other 25% of the strains. One strain exhibited tfdA and -B hybridization associated with a plasmid band, while tfdC and -D hybridized with the chromosomal band area. The group III strains exhibited no detectable homology to tfd genes but hybridized to the Spa probe. The members of this group were tightly clustered as determined by both the FAME analysis and the REP-PCR analysis, were distinctly different from group I strains as determined by the FAME analysis, and had very few plasmids; this group contained more of the 47 isolates than any other group. The group III strains were identified as S. paucimobilis. The group IV strains, which hybridized to neither the tfd probe nor the Spa probe, were as diverse as the group I strains as determined by the FAME and REP-PCR analyses. Most of group IV strains could not be identified by the FAME analysis. Strains belonging to groups I and III were more frequently recovered from soils that had greater field exposure to 2,4-D, suggesting that they were the best competitors for 2,4-D under field conditions. The selection regimen which we used led to two successful but dissimilar groups; the members of one group were similar at the plasmid level but not at the organism level, and the members of the other group were similar at the organism level. Since the members of the latter group are ecologically successful and degradative genes unlike tfd genes, they deserve more attention.