Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Bacterial community diversity and variation in spray water sources and the tomato fruit surface

Adriana Telias1*, James R White2, Donna M Pahl1, Andrea R Ottesen3 and Christopher S Walsh1

  • * Corresponding author: Adriana Telias

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Plant Science and Landscape Architecture Department, University of Maryland 2102 Plant Sciences Building, College Park, MD 21201, USA

2 Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland School of Medicine 801 West Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

3 Division of Microbiology, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, US Food and Drug Administration, 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, MD 20740, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:81  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-81

Published: 21 April 2011



Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) consumption has been one of the most common causes of produce-associated salmonellosis in the United States. Contamination may originate from animal waste, insects, soil or water. Current guidelines for fresh tomato production recommend the use of potable water for applications coming in direct contact with the fruit, but due to high demand, water from other sources is frequently used. We sought to describe the overall bacterial diversity on the surface of tomato fruit and the effect of two different water sources (ground and surface water) when used for direct crop applications by generating a 454-pyrosequencing 16S rRNA dataset of these different environments. This study represents the first in depth characterization of bacterial communities in the tomato fruit surface and the water sources commonly used in commercial vegetable production.


The two water sources tested had a significantly different bacterial composition. Proteobacteria was predominant in groundwater samples, whereas in the significantly more diverse surface water, abundant phyla also included Firmicutes, Actinobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. The fruit surface bacterial communities on tomatoes sprayed with both water sources could not be differentiated using various statistical methods. Both fruit surface environments had a high representation of Gammaproteobacteria, and within this class the genera Pantoea and Enterobacter were the most abundant.


Despite the major differences observed in the bacterial composition of ground and surface water, the season long use of these very different water sources did not have a significant impact on the bacterial composition of the tomato fruit surface. This study has provided the first next-generation sequencing database describing the bacterial communities living in the fruit surface of a tomato crop under two different spray water regimes, and therefore represents an important step forward towards the development of science-based metrics for Good Agricultural Practices.