In spring 2012, a severe disease was observed on a limited number of tomato plants (Solanum lycopersicum L.) in a research greenhouse facility in western North Carolina. The first symptoms noted were downward curling of the terminal leaves accompanied by a rough puckered darker green texture. This was followed in time by greater distortion of the leaves with pale green on leaf margins. Older leaves with symptoms developed necrosis, with necrotic spots and streaks appearing on a few fruits. On some of these affected fruits, stems, peduncles, pedicels, and sepals also showed symptoms. Infected plants were badly stunted, and fruits in the upper parts of plants displaying severe symptoms remained very small. In just a few months, the disease spread to other tomato plants inside the greenhouse. A survey in May 2012 showed a disease incidence of 18% (156 symptomatic plants out of a total of 864) in this greenhouse. Initial screenings for possible viruses using ELISA (Agdia, Elkhart, IN), as well as a reverse transcription (RT)-PCR panel of 15 common tomato viruses in our laboratory were negative. Because of the symptoms and negative results for viruses, a viroid infection was suspected. Total plant RNA was prepared using TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA) from leaf tissues of eight diseased plants and one seed sample. Using real-time RT-PCR developed against Potato spindle tuber viroid (PSTVd) and some related pospiviroids (1), positive signals were observed with a mean Ct = 13.24 for leaf tissues and Ct = 19.91 for the seed sample. To obtain a full viroid genome, RT-PCR using two different sets of primers, one specific for PSTVd (PSTVd-F and PSTVd-R) (2), and a universal primer set for pospiviroids (MTTVd-F and MTTVd-R) (3) was performed. RT-PCR generated amplicons with expected size of ~360 bp from all eight leaf and one seed samples, but not from a healthy control. PCR products were cloned using the TOPO TA cloning kit (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA). A total of 22 full genomic sequences were obtained. A multi-sequence alignment generated a consensus sequence of 360 nt, designated as NC12-01 (GenBank Accession No. JX280944). BLASTn search in the NCBI database revealed the highest sequence identity of 96.9% to Australian (AY962324) and UK (AJ583449) isolates of PSTVd and 95.9% identity to the tomato isolate of PSTVd-CA1 (HM753555). Similar disease symptoms were observed on two ‘Rutgers’ tomato plants 2 weeks post mechanical inoculation and the presence of PSTVd was confirmed by real-time RT-PCR (1). A mock-inoculated plant did not show any symptoms. In the U.S., natural infection of PSTVd on tomato was first identified in California in 2010 (3). To our knowledge, this is the first report of a natural occurrence of PSTVd on tomato in the eastern U.S. The diseased plants were contained, properly disposed of, and eradicated in this location. The broader geographic distribution of PSTVd on tomato in the U.S., and the potential latent infection in potato and a number of ornamentals (4), emphasizes the need for better plant and seed health tests for viroids on these plants.
References: (1) N. Boonham et al. J. Virol. Methods 116:139, 2004. (2) H. Bostan et al. J. Virol. Methods 116:189, 2004. (3) K.-S. Ling and D. Sfetcu. Plant Dis. 94:1376, 2010. (4) R. A. Owens and J. Th. J. Verhoeven. The Plant Health Instructor. DOI: 10.1094/PHI-I-2009-0804-01, 2009.