Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) is widely grown in tropical and subtropical regions. In Brazil, this species is commonly used for green manure, since this legume is an efficient nitrogen fixer that produces organic residues for soil improvement. In July of 2012, C. juncea exhibiting intense shoot proliferation, leaf malformation, shortened internodes, and generalized yellowing were found in an experimental field located in Piracicaba, State of São Paulo, Brazil. The incidence was about 1 to 2% and the diseased plants were distributed at random. Since these symptoms are indicative of infection by phytoplasmas, the present study aimed to detect and identify the phytoplasma. Four symptomatic and two asymptomatic plants were sampled. Small segments of leaf veins were prepared for microscopy, as previously reported (1), and observations were made using a Jeol (Akishima/Japan) model Jem-1011 transmission electron microscope. Total DNA was extracted from leaves using a commercial kit (DNeasy Plant Mini, Qiagen Inc.), and nested PCR assays were performed with primers, P1/Tint followed by R16F2n/R16R2 (2). The initial assumption that disease symptoms were associated with phytoplasma was confirmed by PCR amplification of 1.2 kb DNA fragments from the 16S rDNA gene. In contrast, no amplicon was generated with PCR using template DNA from asymptomatic plants. The phytoplasma detected from each symptomatic sample was considered to be an isolate. PCR products were purified and cloned in Escherichia coli DH5α, using the pGEM-T Easy Vector System I (Promega). Three isolates were selected and the cloned 16S rDNA sequences from three colonies of each isolate were sequenced. Since no sequence polymorphisms were found, a majority consensus sequence was selected for each isolate. These sequences were identical and one of them, designated CrSP-Br01 (crotalaria shoot proliferation) with 1,249 bp (GenBank Accession KC756947), was used as representative of the sunn hemp phytoplasma. The 16S rDNA nucleotide sequence of this phytoplasma shared 100% sequence identity with the reference phytoplasma for subgroup VII-C (Argentinian Alfalfa witches'-broom phytoplasma, AY147038). According to the in silico RFLP analysis for delineation of subgroups (3), which is based on virtual RFLP patterns and similarity coefficient calculation, the C. juncea phytoplasma was classified as a member of group 16SrVII, subgroup C. Phylogenetic analysis supported that this phytoplasma is closely related to the representative of subgroup 16SrVII-C, since both phytoplasmas emerged from the same branch. Transmission electron microscopic examination revealed the presence of phytoplasmas by visualization of pleomorphic and round bodies 100 to 400 nm in diameter, in the phloem vessels of symptomatic plants. The present study reports the first occurrence of a 16SrVII-C phytoplasma in Brazil. In addition, C. juncea was identified as a new host for phytoplasmas belonging to this subgroup.
References: (1) A. B. Maunsbach and B. A. Afzelius. Biomedical Electron Microscopy. Illustrated Methods and Interpretations. Page 381-426, San Diego, Academic Press, 1999. (2) M. C. C. Rappussi et al. Eur. J. Plant Pathol. 133:829, 2012. (3) W. Wei et al. Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 57:1855, 2007.