Phytoplasmas are a diverse but phylogenetically coherent group of cell-wall-less bacteria affiliated with the class
. Due to difficulties in establishing axenic culture, phytoplasmas were assigned to a provisional genus, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma’, and the genus was embraced within the order
. However, phytoplasmas differ significantly from species of the genus
in their habitat specificities, modes of life, metabolic capabilities, genomic architectures, and phylogenetic positions. This communication describes the unique ecological, nutritional, biochemical, genomic and phylogenetic properties that distinguish phytoplasmas from species of the genus
and all other taxa in the class
. Since such distinguishing properties of the phytoplasmas are not referable to the descriptions of the order
and of all other existing orders, namely
, this communication raises the question of whether ‘
’ should be retained in the order
or whether a novel provisional order and family should be created to accommodate the genus ‘
Phytoplasmas classified in group 16SrXII infect a wide range of plants and are transmitted by polyphagous planthoppers of the family Cixiidae. Based on 16S rRNA gene sequence identity and biological properties, group 16SrXII encompasses several species, including ‘Candidatus
’ and ‘Candidatus
’. Other group 16SrXII phytoplasma strains are associated with stolbur disease in wild and cultivated herbaceous and woody plants and with bois noir disease in grapevines (Vitis vinifera L.). Such latter strains have been informally proposed to represent a separate species, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’, but a formal description of this taxon has not previously been published. In the present work, stolbur disease strain STOL11 (STOL) was distinguished from reference strains of previously described species of the ‘Candidatus
’ genus based on 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity and a unique signature sequence in the 16S rRNA gene. Other stolbur- and bois noir-associated (‘Ca. Phytoplasma solani’) strains shared >99 % 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity with strain STOL11 and contained the signature sequence. ‘Ca. Phytoplasma solani’ is the only phytoplasma known to be transmitted by Hyalesthes obsoletus. Insect vectorship and molecular characteristics are consistent with the concept that diverse ‘Ca. Phytoplasma solani’ strains share common properties and represent an ecologically distinct gene pool. Phylogenetic analyses of 16S rRNA, tuf, secY and rplV–rpsC gene sequences supported this view and yielded congruent trees in which ‘Ca. Phytoplasma solani’ strains formed, within the group 16SrXII clade, a monophyletic subclade that was most closely related to, but distinct from, that of ‘Ca.
’-related strains. Based on distinct molecular and biological properties, stolbur- and bois noir-associated strains are proposed to represent a novel species level taxon, ‘Ca. Phytoplasma solani’; STOL11 is designated the reference strain.
Symptoms of abnormal proliferation of shoots resulting in formation of witches’-broom growths were observed on diseased plants of passion fruit (Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa Deg.) in Brazil. RFLP analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences amplified in PCRs containing template DNAs extracted from diseased plants collected in Bonito (Pernambuco) and Viçosa (Minas Gerais) Brazil, indicated that such symptoms were associated with infections by two mutually distinct phytoplasmas. One phytoplasma, PassWB-Br4 from Bonito, represents a new subgroup, 16SrIII-V, in the X-disease phytoplasma group (‘Candidatus Phytoplasma pruni’-related strains). The second phytoplasma, PassWB-Br3 from Viçosa, represents a previously undescribed subgroup in group 16SrVI. Phylogenetic analyses of 16S rRNA gene sequences were consistent with the hypothesis that strain PassWB-Br3 is distinct from previously described ‘Ca.
’ species. Nucleotide sequence alignments revealed that strain PassWB-Br3 shared less than 97.5 % 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity with previously described ‘Ca.
’ species. The unique properties of its DNA, in addition to natural host and geographical occurrence, support the recognition of strain PassWB-Br3 as a representative of a novel taxon, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma sudamericanum’.
Cacti (Opuntia spp.) are perennial, evergreen, succulent plants native to arid areas of the Americas. Because of their aesthetic appearance, many cacti have been cultivated and introduced to other parts of the world as ornamentals. Cacti are susceptible to phytoplasma infections and develop witches'-broom (WB) disease. Currently, all reported cactus WB cases are associated with infections by phytoplasmas in the peanut witches'-broom group (16SrII) (1,2,4). During a phytoplasma diversity survey carried out during 2004 in Yunnan, China, we collected 29 malformed and 14 healthy-looking naturally occurring cactus plants from 14 locations representing five geographical regions. Each of the 29 malformed plants exhibited stunted growth and possessed clusters of highly proliferating cladodia, typical symptoms of cactus WB disease. Nested-PCR was carried out on the DNA samples extracted from young cladodia of these plants using phytoplasma-universal 16S rDNA primers P1A/P7A and R16F2n/R16R2 (3). Results revealed that all 29 diseased plants that were examined were infected by phytoplasmas, whereas all 14 healthy-looking plants were negative for phytoplasmas. Subsequent restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of the PCR-amplified 1.25-kb 16S rDNA fragments indicated that 28 diseased plants were infected by a phytoplasma of group 16SrII, whereas one plant (from Suan Village) was infected by a ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’-related (group 16SrI) phytoplasma designated as strain YN26. Nucleotide sequence analysis of the strain YN26 partial rRNA operon (GenBank Accession No. EF190970), covering a near full-length 16S rRNA gene, a 16S-23S rRNA intergenic spacer, a tRNA-Ile gene, and a partial 23S rRNA gene, suggested that this phytoplasma is most closely related to an ash witches'-broom phytoplasma (GenBank Accession No. AY566302, 99.7% identity) and an epilobium phyllody phytoplasma (GenBank Accession No. AY101386, 99.7% identity), both members of subgroup16SrI-B. This YN26-infected cactus plant was transferred to a greenhouse and maintained for more than 2 years, during which time DNA samples were extracted and tested two additional times. The same 16S rDNA RFLP pattern type was consistently obtained in these tests, confirming that the plant remained infected by the 16SrI phytoplasma. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a natural infection of a cactus species by a group 16SrI phytoplasma. Since this 16SrI-cactus WB phytoplasma was found in the same geographical location where 16SrII-cactus WB phytoplasma was detected both in this and a previous study (1), the findings raised the question whether 16SrI- and 16SrII-cactus WB phytoplasmas have overlapping geo- and bioecological niches. References: (1) H. Cai et al. Plant Pathol. 51:394, 2002. (2) E. Choueiri et al. Plant Dis. 89:1129, 2005. (3) I. M. Lee et al. Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol 54:337, 2004. (4) N. Leyva-Lopez et al. Phytopathology (Abstr.) 89(suppl):S45, 1999.