Xuefeng Wang, National Citrus Engineering Research Center, Citrus Research Institute, Southwest University, Chongqing 400712, P. R. China;
Harsha Doddapaneni, Department of Biology, University of Iowa, Iowa City 52242; and
Jianchi Chen and
Raymond K. Yokomi, United States Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center, Parlier, CA 93648-9757
Spiroplasma citri is a phloem-limited bacterium causing citrus stubborn disease (CSD). Isolation and culturing of S. citri is technically demanding and time consuming. S. citri is typically low in titer and unevenly distributed in citrus, making reliable detection challenging. The current preferred detection method is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays with primers developed from sequences of S. citri housekeeping genes. Recent genome sequencing of S. citri revealed that the bacterium harbors multiple copies of prophage genes. Therefore, targeting multicopy prophage genes was hypothesized to improve sensitivity of PCR detection. Two primer sets, Php-orf1 and Php-orf3, were developed from conserved prophage sequences in the S. citri genome. These primer sets were used to evaluate detection sensitivity in SYBR Green-based quantitative PCR (qPCR) assays with 18 S. citri in cultures isolated from different hosts and locations. Prophage primer set Php-orf1 increased detection sensitivity by 4.91 and 3.65 cycle threshold (Cq) units compared with housekeeping gene primers for spiralin and P58 putative adhesin gene, respectively. Detection was slightly less sensitive for the Php-orf3 primer set at 3.02 and 1.76 Cq units, respectively, over the same housekeeping gene primers. The prophage primer sets were validated for qPCR detection with field samples from three citrus orchards in California's San Joaquin Valley collected from 2007 to 2013. The data showed that S. citri prophage sequences improved sensitivity for qPCR detection of S. citri-infected trees at least 10-fold and reduced the number of false-negative results. No false-positive samples were detected with any of the primer sets. The enhanced sensitivity resulted from the higher copy number of prophage genes in the S. citri genome and, thus, improved CSD diagnosis from field samples.