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.
Understanding how phytoplasmas move and multiply within the host plant is fundamental for plant–pathogen interaction studies. In recent years, the tomato has been used as a model plant to study this type of interaction. In the present work, we investigated the distribution and multiplication dynamics of one strain of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma (Ca. P.) solani’ (16SrXII-A) in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L., cv. Micro-Tom) plants. We obtained infected plants by grafting, a fast and effective method to maintain phytoplasma infection. In planta spread and multiplication of ‘Ca. P. solani’ was monitored over time using qualitative and quantitative qPCR. Root, apical shoot, lower leaves, and upper leaves were sampled at each sampling time. We hypothesized that ‘Ca. P. solani’ from the grafting site reached firstly the highest leaf, the apex and the roots; subsequently, the phytoplasmas spread to the rest of the upper leaves and then progressively to the lower leaves. Significant differences were found in ‘Ca. P. solani’ titer among different plant tissues. In particular, the concentration of phytoplasma in the roots was significantly higher than that in the other plant compartments in almost all the sampling dates. Since the roots show rapid colonization and the highest concentration of phytoplasmas, they represent the ideal tissue to sample for an early, sensitive and robust diagnosis.
‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’ is endemic in Europe and infects a wide range of weeds and cultivated plants. Phytoplasmas are prokaryotic plant pathogens that colonize the sieve elements of their host plant, causing severe alterations in phloem function and impairment of assimilate translocation. Typical symptoms of infected plants include yellowing of leaves or shoots, leaf curling, and general stunting, but the molecular mechanisms underlying most of the reported changes remain largely enigmatic. To infer a possible involvement of Fe in the host-phytoplasma interaction, we investigated the effects of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’ infection on tomato plants (Solanum lycopersicum cv. Micro-Tom) grown under different Fe regimes.
Both phytoplasma infection and Fe starvation led to the development of chlorotic leaves and altered thylakoid organization. In infected plants, Fe accumulated in phloem tissue, altering the local distribution of Fe. In infected plants, Fe starvation had additive effects on chlorophyll content and leaf chlorosis, suggesting that the two conditions affected the phenotypic readout via separate routes. To gain insights into the transcriptional response to phytoplasma infection, or Fe deficiency, transcriptome profiling was performed on midrib-enriched leaves. RNA-seq analysis revealed that both stress conditions altered the expression of a large (> 800) subset of common genes involved in photosynthetic light reactions, porphyrin / chlorophyll metabolism, and in flowering control. In Fe-deficient plants, phytoplasma infection perturbed the Fe deficiency response in roots, possibly by interference with the synthesis or transport of a promotive signal transmitted from the leaves to the roots.
‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’ infection changes the Fe distribution in tomato leaves, affects the photosynthetic machinery and perturbs the orchestration of root-mediated transport processes by compromising shoot-to-root communication.
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.
Elm yellows group (16SrV) phytoplasmas, which are associated with devastating diseases in elm, grapevine, blackberry, cherry, peach and several other plant species in America, Europe and Asia, represent one of the most diverse phytoplasma clusters. On the basis of phylogenetic analysis of 16S rDNA sequences, elm yellows group phytoplasmas form a discrete subclade within the phytoplasma clade. Three phylogenetic parameters, namely 16S rRNA, ribosomal protein and secY genes, have been evaluated for their usefulness in differentiating elm yellows group phytoplasmas. RFLP analysis of 16S rRNA sequences differentiated the elm yellows group phytoplasmas into five subgroups. Twelve RFLP subgroups were differentiated on the basis of ribosomal protein and 13 were differentiated using secY gene sequences. Phylogenetic analysis of the ribosomal protein genes and secY gene alone or in combination indicated that the subgroups constitute 12 genetically distinct lineages, each of which appears to have evolved under different ecological constraints such as specific vector or plant hosts. On the basis of unique DNA and biological properties, it is proposed that the elm yellows phytoplasma EY1T represents a novel taxon, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma ulmi’.