Onion (Allium cepa L.) is one of the key vegetables produced by small-holder farmers for the domestic markets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Biotic factors, including infestation by thrips pests such as Thrips tabaci Lindeman, can inflict as much as 60% yield loss. Iris yellow spot virus (IYSV; family Bunyaviridae, genus Tospovirus) transmitted by T. tabaci is an economically important viral pathogen of bulb and seed onion crops in many onion-growing areas of the world (2,4). In Africa, IYSV has been reported in Reunion (1) and South Africa (3). In September 2009, symptoms suspected to be caused by IYSV were observed on onions and leeks cultivated in Nairobi, Kenya. Symptoms consisted of spindle-shaped, straw-colored, irregular chlorotic lesions with occasional green islands on the leaves. The presence of the virus was confirmed with IYSV-specific Agdia Flash kits (Agdia Inc., Elkart, IN). Subsequently, surveys were undertaken in small-holder farms in onion production areas of Makueni (January 2010) and Mwea (August 2010) in Kenya and Kasese (January 2010) and Rwimi (January 2010) in Uganda. The incidence of disease in these locations ranged between 27 and 72%. Onion leaves showing symptoms of IYSV infection collected from both locations tested positive for the virus by double-antibody sandwich-ELISA with IYSV-specific antiserum (Agdia Inc). IYSV infection was confirmed by reverse transcription-PCR with primers IYSV-465c: 5′-AGCAAAGTGAGAGGACCACC-3′ and IYSV-239f: 5′-TGAGCCCCAATCAAGACG3′ (3) as forward and reverse primers, respectively. Amplicons of approximately 240 bp were obtained from all symptomatic test samples but not from healthy and water controls. The amplicons were cloned and sequenced from each of the sampled regions. Consensus sequence for each isolate was derived from at least three clones. The IYSV-Kenya isolate (GenBank Accession No. HQ711616) had the highest nucleotide sequence identity of 97% with the corresponding region of IYSV isolates from Sri Lanka (GenBank Accession No. GU901211), followed by the isolates from India (GenBank Accession Nos. EU310287 and EU310290). The IYSV-Uganda isolate (GenBank Accession No. HQ711615) showed the highest nucleotide sequence identity of 95% with the corresponding region of IYSV isolates from Sri Lanka (GenBank Accession No. GU901211) and India (95% with GenBank Accession Nos. EU310274 and EU310297). To our knowledge, this is the first report of IYSV infecting onion in Kenya and Uganda. Further surveys and monitoring of IYSV incidence and distribution in the region, along with its impact on the yield, are under investigation.
References: (1) L. J. du Toit et al. Plant Dis. 91:1203, 2007. (2) D. H. Gent et al. Plant Dis. 88:446, 2004. (3) H. R. Pappu et al. Plant Dis 92:588, 2008. (4) H. R. Pappu et al. Virus Res. 141:219, 2009.
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