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A Phytoplasma Related to ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’ Detected in Citrus Showing Huanglongbing (Yellow Shoot Disease) Symptoms in Guangdong, P. R. China

March 2009 , Volume 99 , Number  3
Pages  236 - 242

J. Chen, X. Pu, X. Deng, S. Liu, H. Li, and E. Civerolo

First and sixth authors: U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Parlier, CA; second, third, and fifth authors: Citrus Huanglongbing Research Laboratory, Department of Plant Pathology; and fourth author: Department of Soil Science, South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou, Guangdong, P. R. China.

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Accepted for publication 17 October 2008.

Citrus huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow shoot disease (i.e., greening disease) is highly destructive to citrus production worldwide. Understanding the etiology of HLB is critical for managing the disease. HLB is currently associated with infection by ‘Candidatus Liberibacter spp.’ around the world, including China. However, Koch's postulates have not been fulfilled. In addition, other plant pathogens also may be involved in HLB. In a survey performed in Guangdong Province, P. R. China in 2006 and 2007, 141 citrus samples showing typical symptoms of HLB from 11 different cities were collected. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using phytoplasma-specific primer sets fU5/rU3 nested with primer set P1/P7 identified 110 (78.0%) positive samples. A 1,785-bp amplicon was obtained with primer set P1/P7. Analysis showed a 100% identity of this sequence in the region of 16S rDNA and 16S-23S rRNA intergenic transcribed spacer to three strains of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’ (onion yellows [Japan], aster yellows ‘watercress’ [Hawaii], and valeriana yellows [Lithuania]). Of the 141 samples, 89 (63.1%) samples were positive for ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’. When mixed infection was considered, 69 (48.9%) samples were positive for both ‘Ca. P. asteris’ and ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) showed low titers of both walled and wall-less bodies in the phloem sieve tubes of HLB citrus. When transmission from symptomatic citrus to periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) via dodder (Cuscuta campestris) was conducted, both phytoplasma and ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ were detected from the affected periwinkle. In addition to yellowing/mottling, the infected periwinkle showed symptoms of virescence and phyllody which are commonly associated with phytoplasmal diseases. TEM analysis of affected periwinkle revealed pleomorphic and wall-less organisms, characteristic of phytoplasmas, filling some phloem sieve tubes. In contrast, walled bacteria were at low titer. This study showed that in addition to ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’, a phytoplasma related to ‘Ca. P. asteris’ could also be detected in citrus showing HLB symptoms in Guangdong.

The American Phytopathological Society, 2009