‘Candidatus Phytoplasma trifolii’ is a cell wall-less phytopathogenic bacterium that infects many agriculturally important plant species such as alfalfa, clover, eggplant, pepper, potato, and tomato. The phytoplasma is responsible for repeated outbreaks of potato purple top (PPT) and potato witches’ broom (PWB) that occurred along the Pacific Coast of the United States since 2002, inflicting significant economic losses. To effectively manage these phytoplasmal diseases, it is important to develop diagnostic tools for specific, sensitive, and rapid detection of the pathogens. Here we report the development of a DNA endonuclease targeted CRISPR trans reporter (DETECTR) assay that couples isothermal amplification and Cas12a transcleavage of fluorescent oligonucleotide reporter for highly sensitive and specific detection of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma trifolii’-related strains responsible for PPT and PWB. The DETECTR assay was capable of specifically detecting the 16S-23S ribosomal DNA intergenic transcribed spacer sequences from PPT- and PWB-diseased samples at the attomolar sensitivity level. Furthermore, the DETECTR strategy allows flexibility to capture assay outputs with fluorescent microplate readers or lateral flow assays for potentially high-throughput and/or field-deployable disease diagnostics.
Wheat blue dwarf (WBD) is one of the most economically damaging cereal crop diseases in northwestern PR China. The agent associated with the WBD disease is a phytoplasma affiliated with the aster yellows (AY) group, subgroup C (16SrI-C). Since phytoplasma strains within the AY group are ecologically and genetically diverse, it has been conceived that the AY phytoplasma group may consist of more than one species. This communication presents evidence to demonstrate that, while each of the two 16 rRNA genes of the WBD phytoplasma shares >97.5 % sequence similarity with that of the ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’ reference strain, the WBD phytoplasma clearly represents an ecologically separated lineage: the WBD phytoplasma not only has its unique transmitting vector (Psammotettix striatus) but also elicits a distinctive symptom in its predominant plant host (wheat). In addition, the WBD phytoplasma possesses molecular characteristics that further manifest its significant divergence from ‘Ca. P. asteris’. Such molecular characteristics include lineage-specific antigenic membrane proteins and a lower than 95 % genome-wide average nucleotide identity score with ‘Ca. P. asteris’. These ecological, molecular and genomic evidences justify the recognition of the WBD phytoplasma as a novel taxon, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma tritici’.