Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory, USDA, ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705
USDA, ARS, YARL, Wapato, WA 98951
North Dakota State University, Department of Plant Pathology, Fargo 58105
An epidemic of purple top disease of potato (Solanum tuberosum) occurred in the Columbia Basin Region of Washington and Oregon in 2002 and 2003, causing great economic loss in the potato industry (1). Symptoms of potato purple top (PPT) were characterized by upright terminal shoots, upward leaf rolling, chlorosis, red or purplish discoloration of new leaves, proliferation of axillary shoots with basal swelling, and the formation of aerial tubers. Preliminary studies on PPT disease suggested phytoplasma as a possible cause (1). In this study, 78 potato samples (including five asymptomatic) were collected from five fields throughout the region. A nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with primer pair P1/P7 in the first amplification followed with primer pair R16F2n/R16R2 was performed to detect the presence of phytoplasmas in infected plants (2). Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) and phylogenetic analyses of amplified 16S rDNA sequences were used for phytoplasma identification. Eighty-four percent (63% in the first amplification) of the symptomatic samples and 60% (0% in the first amplification) of the asymptomatic samples tested positive. Low phytoplasma titers and the presence of PCR inhibitors accounts for the low detection rate in the first PCR amplifications. RFLP analyses of 16S rDNA with enzymes MseI, AluI, HhaI, RsaI, and HpaII indicated that the phytoplasma associated with PPT belonged to the clover proliferation (CP) group (16SrVI) subgroup A (16SrVI-A) (2). 16SrVI-A currently consists of three members, CP (GenBank Accession No. AY500130), potato witches'-broom (GenBank Accession No. AY500818), and vinca virescence (VR) (GenBank Accession No. AY500817), a strain of beet leafhopper-transmitted virescence agent (BLTVA) phytoplasma (2). The taxonomic affiliation of PPT phytoplasma was confirmed by phylogenetic analysis of cloned 16S rDNA (GenBank Accession Nos. PPT4, AY496004; PPT8, AY496005). The 16S rDNA sequences of the PPT strains were closely related to VR with 99.7% sequence homology compared with 99.2% with CP. A high correlation between the symptoms and the presence of 16SrVI-A phytoplasmas in the potato plants suggests that these phytoplasmas play an etiological role in PPT disease. To gain further evidence, a modified test of Koch's postulates was conducted. Infected tissues from four phytoplasma-positive potato samples (including PPT4 and PPT8) were grafted onto healthy potato seedlings. Within 60 days after grafting, the potato seedlings developed symptoms similar to those in the original diseased samples. The newly infected plants were maintained through cuttings. RFLP analysis of 16S rDNA indicated that the phytoplasmas detected in each of the seedlings and cuttings were identical to those in the scions. These results confirmed the probable etiological role of CP group, subgroup 16SrVI-A phytoplasma strains in PPT disease in Washington and Oregon. There are two other confirmed cases of phytoplasmas (BLTVA and aster yellows phytoplasma) associated with PPT disease in Utah (4) and Mexico (3).
References: (1) P. B. Hamm et al. Potato Prog. Vol. 3, No. 1, 2003. (2) I.-M. Lee et al. Int. J. Syst. Bacteriol. 48:1153, 1998. (3) N. E. Leyva-Lopez et al. Can. J. Microbiol. 48:1062, 2002. (4) C. D. Smart et al. Phytopathology 83:1399, 1993.