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Multiple Infection of Apple Trees by Distinct Strains of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma mali’ and Its Pathological Relevance

September 2010 , Volume 100 , Number  9
Pages  863 - 870

Erich Seemüller, Emese Kiss, Sandor Sule, and Bernd Schneider

First and fourth authors: Julius Kuehn Institute, Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Plant Protection in Fruit Crops and Viticulture, D-69221 Dossenheim, Germany; and second and third authors: Plant Protection Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Science, H-1525 Budapest, Hungary.

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Accepted for publication 29 April 2010.

Forty-eight apple trees infected by ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma mali’ were examined using single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) and sequence analysis of a variable hflB gene fragment and the immunodominant membrane protein-encoding imp gene. SSCP analysis of polymerase chain reaction-amplified hflB gene fragments revealed diverse profiles, differing in number and position of the bands. The ‘Ca. P. mali’ content of a single infected apple tree was termed an accession. Cloning of fragments from accessions that yielded fewer bands resulted in clone populations showing uniform or moderately polymorphic SSCP patterns and largely homogenous nucleotide sequences. In contrast, inserts from accessions yielding more bands were heterogeneous and formed two to four distinct groups of profiles. DNA fragments from such accessions were diverse and clustered distantly when subjected to phylogenetic analysis, mostly as two homogenous groups plus one or a few other sequences. Similar results were obtained upon imp gene examination. The collective data indicate that accessions exhibiting more complex patterns were composed of two or three distinct ‘Ca. P. mali’ strains. There is evidence that multiple infections are of pathological relevance due to strain interactions leading to shifts in the populations. In triply infected trees of one accession, no specific symptoms were induced by the presence of two of the strains. The rare appearance of pronounced symptoms was associated with a separate strain that possessed a unique SSCP profile and a unique hflB sequence. The two mild strains from this apple accession also induced only mild symptoms on periwinkle and tobacco and occurred specifically in one of these plants.

© 2010 The American Phytopathological Society