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 knowledge of phytoplasma genetic variability is a tool to study their epidemiology and to implement an effective monitoring and management of their associated diseases. ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’ is associated with “bois noir” disease in grapevines, and yellowing and decline symptoms in many plant species, causing serious damages during the epidemic outbreaks. The epidemiology of the diseases associated with this phytoplasma is complex and related to numerous factors, such as interactions of the host plant and insect vectors and spreading through infected plant propagation material. The genetic variability of ‘Ca. P. solani’ strains in different host species and in different geographic areas during the last two decades was studied by RFLP analyses coupled with sequencing on vmp1, stamp, and tuf genes. A total of 119 strains were examined, 25 molecular variants were identified, and the variability of the studied genes was linked to both geographic distribution and year of infection. The crucial question in ‘Ca. P. solani’ epidemiology is to trace back the epidemic cycle of the infections. This study presents some relevant features about differential strain distribution useful for disease monitoring and forecasting, illustrating and comparing the phytoplasma molecular variants identified in various regions, host species, and time periods.
Rubbery taproot disease of sugar beet (RTD), associated with ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’, appeared in 2020 on an epidemic scale in northern Serbia and southern Slovakia, situated at opposite edges of the Pannonian Plain. In the affected locations where the disease was assessed, symptomatic sugar beets were analysed for phytoplasma infection. Additionally, multilocus sequence analyses of ‘Ca. P. solani’ strains on epidemiologically informative marker genes (tuf, stamp and vmp1) were performed. Symptomatic sugar beets from other countries of the Pannonian Plain (Croatia, Hungary and Austria), one sample from Germany, and red beets from Serbia were included in the analyses. ‘Ca. P. solani’ was detected in sugar beet in all assessed countries, as well as in red beet. Molecular analyses revealed the high genetic variability of ‘Ca. P. solani’ with the presence of all four tuf-types (a, b1, b2 and d), 14 stamp genotypes (seven new) and five vmp1 profiles (one new). The most common multilocus genotype in Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, and Hungary was dSTOLg (tuf-d/STOL/V2-TA). It was dominant on sites with epidemic RTD outbreaks in the Pannonian Plain and in several sugar beet fields with non-epidemic RTD occurrence suggesting the prevalence of a particular epidemiological pathway during the epidemic’s phases.
Rubbery taproot disease (RTD) of sugar beet was observed in Serbia for the first time in the 1960s. The disease was already described in neighboring Bulgaria and Romania at the time but it was associated with abiotic factors. In this study on RTD of sugar beet in its main growing area of Serbia, we provide evidence of the association between ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’ (stolbur phytoplasma) infection and the occurrence of typical RTD symptomatology. ‘Ca. P. solani’ was identified by PCR and the sequence analyses of 16S ribosomal RNA, tuf, secY, and stamp genes. In contrast, the causative agent of the syndrome “basses richesses” of sugar beet—namely, ‘Ca. Arsenophonus phytopathogenicus’—was not detected. Sequence analysis of the stolbur strain’s tuf gene confirmed a previously reported and a new, distinct tuf stolbur genotype (named ‘tuf d’) that is prevalent in sugar beet. The sequence signatures of the tuf gene as well as the one of stamp both correlate with the epidemiological cycle and reservoir plant host. This study provides knowledge that, for the first time, enables the differentiation of stolbur strains associated with RTD of sugar beet from closely related strains, thereby providing necessary information for further epidemiological work seeking to identify insect vectors and reservoir plant hosts. The results of this study indicate that there are differences in hybrid susceptibility. Clarifying the etiology of RTD as a long-known and economically important disease is certainly the first step toward disease management in Serbia and neighboring countries.
‘Candidatus Phytoplasma cynodontis’ is widespread in bermudagrass and has only been found in monocotyledonous plants. Molecular studies carried out on strains collected in Italy, Serbia, and Albania enabled verification of molecular variability in the 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene. Based on restriction fragment length polymorphism and sequence analyses, the strains from Serbia were clearly differentiated from all others and assigned to a new ribosomal DNA (rDNA) subgroup designated as 16SrXIV-C. A system for amplification of fragments containing the ‘Ca. P. cynodontis’ groEL gene was developed to enable study of its variability in related strains belonging to different 16SrXIV subgroups. Despite the fact that the groEL gene exhibited a greater sequence variation than 16S rRNA, the phylogenetic tree based on groEL gene sequence analysis was highly congruent with the 16S rDNA-based tree. The groEL gene analyses supported differentiation of the Serbian strains and definition of the new subgroup 16SrXIV-C. Phylogenetic analyses of both genes confirmed distinct phylogenetic lineages for strains belonging to 16SrXIV subgroups. Furthermore, groEL is the only nonribosomal marker developed for characterization of ‘Ca. P. cynodontis’ thus far, and its application in molecular surveys should provide better insight into the relationships among these phytoplasmas and correlation between strain differentiation and their geographical distribution.
Plants of Convolvulus arvensis exhibiting symptoms of undersized leaves, shoot proliferation and yellowing, collectively defined as bindweed yellows, were sampled in different regions of Europe and assessed for phytoplasma infection by PCR amplification using phytoplasma universal rRNA operon primer pairs. Positive results were obtained for all diseased plants. RFLP analysis of amplicons comprising the16S rRNA gene alone or the16S rRNA gene and 16-23S intergenic spacer region indicated that the detected phytoplasmas were distinguishable from all other previously described rRNA gene sequences. Analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences derived from seven selected phytoplasma strains (BY-S57/11, BY-S62/11, BY-I1015, BY-I1016, BY-BH1, BY-BH2 and BY-G) showed that they were nearly identical (99.9–100 % gene sequence similarity) but shared less than 97.5 % similarity with comparable sequences of other phytoplasmas. Thus, BY phytoplasmas represent a new taxon whose closest relatives are stolbur phytoplasma strains and ‘
’ with which they share 97.2 % and 97.1 % 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity, respectively. Phylogenetic analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences confirmed that bindweed yellows phytoplasma strains collectively represent a distinct lineage within the phytoplasma clade and share a common ancestor with previously published or proposed ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma’ taxa within a major branch including aster yellows and stolbur phytoplasmas. On the basis of unique 16S rRNA gene sequences and biological properties that include a single host plant species and a geographical distribution limited to parts of Europe, the bindweed yellows (BY) phytoplasmas represent a coherent but discrete taxon, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma convolvuli’, with strain BY-S57/11 (GenBank accession no. JN833705) as the reference strain.