Stability of entomopathogenic bacteria, Xenorhabdus nematophila and Photorhabdus luminescens, during in vitro culture

Yi Wang, Anwar L. Bilgrami, David Shapiro-Ilan, Randy Gaugler

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18 Scopus citations


The entomopathogenic nematode-bacteria complexes Heterorhabditis bacteriophora/Photorhabdus luminescens and Steinernema carpocapsae/Xenorhabdus nematophila are mass produced for use as biological insecticides. Stability of the bacterial partner in culture is essential for maintaining traits important for both biological control and production. Two geographically distinct strains of each bacterial species were isolated from their nematode partners and serially subcultured on in vitro media to assess trait stability. Subculturing resulted in a shift to secondary cell production in one P. luminescens strain and both X. nematophila strains within ten in vitro culture cycles. However, when cell phenotypic variation was controlled in X. nematophila strains by regular selection for primary variants, no trait change was detected in the primary variant after prolonged subculture. When P. luminescens cell phenotypic variation was controlled by selection for primary variants, changes in the primary variant of both strains were noted including reductions in cell and inclusion body size and inclusion body prevalence. Bacterial ability to cause lethal infections following injection into the hemocoel of Tenebrio molitor larvae declined by more than half in primary variants of one P. luminescens strain. Conversely, yield was enhanced, with the subcultured P. luminescens strains showing 53.5 and 75.8% increases in primary cell density. Field adapted traits of primary variant P. luminescens strains tend to deteriorate during in vitro culture as tradeoffs for gains in yield. In vitro producers of the P. luminescens/H. bacteriophora complex must weigh the need for superior bacterial yield against the need to preserve traits important for biological control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-81
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


  • Entomopathogenic nematodes
  • Photorhabdus luminescens
  • Stability
  • Xenorhabdus nematophila


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