Phytoplasmas are plant pathogenic bacteria that cause devastating losses in the yield of diverse crops worldwide. Specific detection and strain identification of phytoplasmas is important to prevent the spread of phytoplasma-induced diseases. Hence, methods to rapidly detect these organisms are important for pest control. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods using phytoplasma-specific primers are widely used to detect phytoplasmas from infected plants and insects because they are highly sensitive, easily handled, and have a variety of analytical secondary applications. The phytoplasma 16S rDNA was widely used as a target of the PCR detection method; however, further target genes and more rapid methods have been required for more specific detection of phytoplasmas. Here, we developed a multiplex-PCR system to amplify several phytoplasma genes. We designed 36 primers, based on the genome sequence of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’, to amplify 18 single-copy genes covering wide regions of the phytoplasma genome. Nine genes could be simultaneously amplified in a single PCR. This multiplex-PCR was applied to DNAs from 10 phytoplasma strains belonging to the AY-group, and different amplification patterns were obtained between strains, suggesting that this method would allow us to differentiate phytoplasmas at the strain level. Direct sequencing was also possible after the multiplex-PCR amplification by a modified sequencing method. Detailed phylogenetic analysis was performed using concatenated sequences, and evolutionary relationships among four Japanese isolates were revealed, where these strains could not be distinguished by their 16S rDNA. Thus, this multiplex-PCR system is useful for rapid strain identification and detailed phylogenetic analysis of phytoplasmas.
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