AbstractDuring the past two decades, a high mortality of coconut palms was observed in the coastal areas of Equatorial Guinea. Reportedly, the palm population has been reduced by 60%–70%, and coconut production has decreased accordingly. To identify the cause of the mortality, a survey was carried out in April 2021 in various localities of the coconut belt. Molecular analyses carried out on 16S rRNA and secA genes detected phytoplasma presence in the majority of the samples. Sequencing and BLAST search of the 16S rRNA gene sequences showed >99% identity of the detected phytoplasmas to ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma palmicola’. The RFLP analyses of 16S ribosomal gene using Tru1I and TaqI enzymes led to assign these phytoplasmas to subgroup 16SrXXII‐A. In all samples that tested positive, including one from a hybrid coconut palm and two from oil palm the same phytoplasma was identified. The phylogenetic analyses of 16S rRNA and secA genes confirmed respectively 99.98%–100% and 97.94%–100% identity to ‘Ca. P. palmicola’. RFLP analyses using MboII enzyme on the secA gene amplicon differentiated the phytoplasma found in Equatorial Guinea from those present in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The Equatorial Guinean phytoplasma strain resulted to be identical to the strains from Mozambique, confirming the presence of a geographic differentiation among phytoplasma strains in the coastal areas of Western and Central Africa. The identified phytoplasma is different from the ‘Ca. P. palmicola’ strains found in Ghana and Ivory Coast and represents the first identification a 16SrXXII‐A strain in Equatorial Guinea and in Central Africa. Strict monitoring and surveillance procedures for early detection of the pathogen are strongly recommended to reduce its impact and further spread in the country and permit the recovery of coconut plantations.
The genus ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma’ was proposed to accommodate cell wall-less bacteria that are molecularly and biochemically incompletely characterized, and colonize plant phloem and insect vector tissues. This provisional classification is highly relevant due to its application in epidemiological and ecological studies, mainly aimed at keeping the severe phytoplasma plant diseases under control worldwide. Given the increasing discovery of molecular diversity within the genus ‘Ca. Phytoplasma’, the proposed guidelines were revised and clarified to accommodate those ‘Ca. Phytoplasma’ species strains sharing >98.65 % sequence identity of their full or nearly full 16S rRNA gene sequences, obtained with at least twofold coverage of the sequence, compared with those of the reference strain of such species. Strains sharing <98.65 % sequence identity with the reference strain but >98.65 % with other strain(s) within the same ‘Ca. Phytoplasma’ species should be considered related strains to that ‘Ca. Phytoplasma’ species. The guidelines herein, keep the original published reference strains. However, to improve ‘Ca. Phytoplasma’ species assignment, complementary strains are suggested as an alternative to the reference strains. This will be implemented when only a partial 16S rRNA gene and/or a few other genes have been sequenced, or the strain is no longer available for further molecular characterization. Lists of ‘Ca. Phytoplasma’ species and alternative reference strains described are reported. For new ‘Ca. Phytoplasma’ species that will be assigned with identity ≥98.65 % of their 16S rRNA gene sequences, a threshold of 95 % genome-wide average nucleotide identity is suggested. When the whole genome sequences are unavailable, two among conserved housekeeping genes could be used. There are 49 officially published ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma’ species, including ‘Ca. P. cocostanzaniae’ and ‘Ca. P. palmae’ described in this manuscript.
The considerable economic losses in citrus associated with ‘Candidatus Liberibacter’ and ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma’ presence have alerted all producing regions of the world. In Chile, none of these bacteria have been reported in citrus species. During the years 2017 and 2019, 258 samples presenting symptoms similar to those associated with the presence of these bacteria were examined. No detection of ‘Ca. Liberibacter’ associated with “huanglongbing” disease was obtained in the tested samples; therefore, this quarantine pest is maintained as absent in Chile. However, 14 plants resulted positive for phytoplasmas enclosed in subgroups 16SrV-A (12 plants) and 16SrXIII-F (2 plants). Although they have been found in other plant species, this is the first report of these phytoplasmas in citrus worldwide.