To our knowledge, this is the first report that Leifsonia xyli subsp. xyli, previously named Clavibacter xyli subsp. xyli (2), has been detected and identified in sugarcane in Jamaica. Although ratoon stunting (also known as ratoon stunting disease or RSD) has been reported in Jamaica since 1961, presence of the pathogen had never been confirmed in symptomatic tissues. A major industry-wide survey conducted in 1987 using the fluorescent antibody staining technique failed to detect positives in any of the 61 fields sampled in Jamaica. A new survey was conducted in 2004 on eight estates and the Sugar Industry Research Institute (SIRI) in Jamaica. Six arbitrarily selected stalks were sampled from each of 64 fields representing 25 different sugarcane cultivars. A 1-cm diameter core was extracted from the center of the bottom part of the stalk and used to detect the pathogen by tissue blot immunoassay (TBIA) (3). L. xyli subsp. xyli was detected in 26 of 384 samples (7%). At least one positive sample was found in 10 fields and seven cultivars and in one case (sugarcane cv. D14146 at the St Thomas Sugar Estate), all six stalks sampled in a field were positive. The highest number of infected fields (6 of 10) occurred at Worthy Park where cane yield in 2004 was 86.54 tons per ha compared with an average of 68.04 tons per ha for major estates in Jamaica (1). This latter result would indicate that where good quality agronomic practices are maintained, the effect of ratoon stunting might not be substantial or that sugarcane cultivars grown at this location were resistant to ratoon stunting. Pathogen identification was confirmed using nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with three samples from a TBIA-positive field of cv. D14146. Primary primers were RSD 33 (CTGGCACCCTGTGTTGTTTTC) and RSD 297 (TTCGGTTCTCATCTCAGCGTC) and secondary, nested primers were RST60 (TCAACGCAGAGATTGTCCAG) and RST59 (CGTCTTGAAGACACAGCGATGAG). The thermocycler parameters were denaturization at 94°C for 4 min, 31 cycles at 94°C for 30 s, 55°C for 30 s, 65°C for 1 min, and final extension at 65°C for 3 min. The nested-PCR product (approximately 230 bp) of each sample was cloned and sequenced. It showed 99 to 100% identity with the 16S-23S intergenic spacer region of L. xyli subsp. xyli, thus confirming occurrence of ratoon stunting in Jamaica. Since this study, the SIRI has installed a hot-water treatment plant and will heat-treat cuttings before planting the nurseries with new sugarcane clones selected for release to growers. The SIRI will also conduct screening for ratoon stunting resistance to ensure that susceptible clones are not released to the industry. Meanwhile, the SIRI will do a more intense survey so that a more comprehensive picture may be obtained of the presence of ratoon stunting in Jamaica.
References: (1) Anonymous. Annual Report of the Sugar Industry Research Institute, Jamaica, 2004. (2) L. I. Evtushenko et al. Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 50:371, 2000. (3) N. A. Harrison and M. J. Davis. Phytopathology 78:722, 1988.