Bituminaria bituminosa (L.) Stirt. is a perennial legume known as Arabian pea that is used as a forage in arid areas and for stabilization of degraded soils. It is widely distributed in the Mediterranean Basin with wider adaptation across the Canary Islands (4). In July 2010, during a survey for phytoplasma, some Canary Island B. bituminosa plants with typical phytoplasma symptoms, including stunted growth with small leaves, shortened internodes, and bushy growth, were found in seed multiplication nurseries at Medina, Perth, Western Australia (115°48.5′E; 32°13.2′S). Two samples from plants with clear disease symptoms and two visibly healthy plants were collected and total DNA was extracted with the Illustra DNA extraction kit Phytopure (GE Healthcare) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Direct and nested PCR were used to test the presence of phytoplasma 16S rDNA in samples with universal primers P1/P7 and R16F2n/R16R2, respectively (1,3). The PCR amplifications from all diseased samples yielded an expected product of 1.8 kb by direct and 1.2 kb by nested PCR, but not from the healthy plant samples. The direct PCR product was used as a template DNA in sequencing and the DNA sequence was deposited in the NCBI GenBank (Accession No. HQ404357). Sequence homology analysis indicated there was a perfect match between the two isolates. BLAST search of the NCBI GenBank revealed that B. bituminosa phytoplasma shares >99% sequence identity with Crotalaria witches'-broom phytoplasma (Accession No. EU650181.1), pear decline phytoplasma (Accession No. EF656453.1), and Scaevola witches'-broom phytoplasma (Accession No. AB257291.1). On the basis of BLAST analyses of 16S rRNA gene sequences, B. bituminosa phytoplasma in Western Australia appears to belong to the peanut witches'-broom group (16SrII-D) of phytoplasma. Restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis was also performed on nested PCR products of two samples of B. bituminosa phytoplasma by separate digestion with HaeIII, Hind6I, HpaII, MboI, RsaI, Tru9I, and T-HB8I restriction enzymes. Samples yielded patterns similar to alfalfa witches'-broom phytoplasma (Accession No. AF438413) belonging to subgroup 16SrII-D (2). To our knowledge, this is the first report of a phytoplasma of the 16SrII-D group infecting B. bituminosa in Australia and should be referred to as “Bituminaria witches'-broom phytoplasma” (BiWB). This report also indicates that the occurrence of the phytoplasma in B. bituminosa may be widespread in the Canary Islands and other species of Bituminaria might be susceptible to infection by Bituminaria witches'-broom phytoplasma.
References: (1) D. E. Gundersen and I.-M. Lee. Phytopathol. Mediterr. 35:144, 1996. (2) A. J. Khan et al. Phytopathology 92:1038, 2002. (3) I.-M. Lee et al. Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 54:337, 2004. (4) P. Mendez et al. Grassland Sci. Eur. 11:300, 2006.