First author: Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory, USDA, ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705; second author: Insect Biocontrol Laboratory, USDA, ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705; and third author: Istituto di Patologia Vegetale, Universitá degli Studi, Via Filippo Re 8, 40126 Bologna, Italy
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Accepted for publication 26 May 1998.
The recent development of molecular-based probes such as mono- and polyclonal antibodies, cloned phytoplasma DNA fragments, and phytoplasma-specific primers for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has allowed for advances in detection and identification of uncultured phytoplasmas (formerly called mycoplasma-like organisms). Comprehensive phylogenetic studies based on analysis of 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) or both 16S rRNA and ribosomal protein gene operon sequences established the phylogenetic position of phytoplasmas as members of the class Mollicutes, and the revealed phylogenetic interrelationships among phytoplasmas formed a basis for their classification. Based on restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of PCR-amplified 16S rRNA gene sequences, phytoplasmas are currently classified into 14 groups and 38 subgroups that are consistent with groups delineated based on phylogenetic analysis using parsimony of 16S rRNA gene sequences. In the past decades, numerous phyto-plasma strains associated with plants and insect vectors have been identified using molecular-based tools. Genomic diversity of phytoplasma groups appears to be correlated with their sharing common insect vectors, host plants, or both in nature. The level of exchange of genetic information among phytoplasma strains in a given group is determined by three-way, vector-phytoplasma-plant interactions. A putative mechanism for the creation of new ecological niches and the evolution of new ecospecies is proposed.
© 1998 The American Phytopathological Society