More than 3,000 acres of watermelon were planted in Alabama in 2010 with a production value more than $4 million (J. Kemble, personal communication). Symptoms typical of cucurbit yellow vine disease (CYVD) were observed in a 2-ha watermelon field in Crawford, AL on 8 June 2010. Watermelon, cv. Jubilee, exhibited a yellow appearance and some plants were completely wilted. Incidence of affected plants was estimated at 25%. On 24 June, plant samples were collected from a 1-ha watermelon (cv. Jubilee) field near Dadeville, AL. Approximately 30% of the plants exhibited yellowing and wilting, which is symptomatic of CYVD. Samples were also collected from a small planting of yellow crooked-neck squash at the same location. Approximately 20% of the squash plants had symptoms typical of CYVD. Cross-sections of belowground stem and primary root revealed a honey-brown phloem discoloration and a healthy appearing xylem, symptoms consistent with CYVD caused by the phloem-colonizing bacterium, Serratia marcescens Bizio (1). Isolations were made from the crown on four symptomatic watermelon and two squash plants. Approximately 2.5-mm3 tissue pieces from the phloem were excised, surface sterilized in 10% sodium hypochlorite, and ground in 1-ml PBS (phosphate buffer with saline). A 10-μl aliquot of slurry was plated onto nutrient agar (NA) (Difco, Detroit, MI) and the plates were stored at room temperature for 4 days. Individual colonies were selected and purified by serial dilution plating. Isolates from watermelon and squash were consistent with S. marcescens in colony morphology, color, and texture. Three isolates obtained from watermelon were grown on NA and suspended in sterile water at 108 cells per ml for mechanical transmission experiments on ‘Lemondrop’ squash. Sterile water served as a negative control. After 28 days, plants were cross-sectioned at the juncture of the root and stem and observed for phloem discoloration. Of the 56, 58, and 62 plants inoculated in three replicate studies, 78.6, 56.9, and 62.9% developed CYVD symptoms, respectively, while none of the controls were positive. Cultured bacteria from six of the symptomatic, greenhouse-inoculated plants representing the three watermelon isolates were subjected to multiplex end-point PCR using primer sets YV1/YV4, specific for the species S. marcescens, and a79F/R, which amplifies only the CYVD strains of S. marcescens (3). All six bacteria cultures along with the positive control (reference isolate W01 obtained from watermelon in Texas) were positive, while the negative PBS control was negative. Although rhizosphere-inhabiting and plant growth promoting endophytic strains of S. marcescens have been reported from Alabama (2), to our knowledge, this is the first known report of CYVD and phytopathogenic S. marcescens in Alabama cucurbits.
References: (1) B. D. Bruton et al. Plant Dis. 87:937, 2004. (2) J. A. McInroy and J. W. Kloepper. Plant Soil 173:333, 1995. (3) Q. Zhang et al. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 71:7716, 2005.