Huanglongbing (HLB) (ex-greening) is one of the most serious diseases of citrus. The causal agent is a noncultured, sieve tube-restricted α-proteobacterium, “Candidatus Liberibacter africanus” in Africa and “Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus” in Asia (2). The disease has never been reported from the American continent. However, Diaphorina citri, the Asian psyllid vector of HLB, is found in South, Central, and North America (Florida and Texas). Early in 2004, leaf and fruit symptoms resembling those of HLB were observed in several sweet orange orchards near the city of Araraquara, Sao Paulo State. Leaf mottling on small and large leaves was the major symptom. Shoots with affected leaves were yellowish. Fruits were small and lopsided, contained many aborted seeds, and appeared more severely affected than were plants infected with classic HLB. Forty-three symptomatic samples and twenty-five samples of symptomless sweet orange leaves from five farms were analyzed for the presence of the HLB-liberibacters using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with two sets of HLB-specific primers for amplification of 16S rDNA (2,3) and ribosomal protein genes (1). None of the 43 symptomatic leaf samples gave a positive PCR amplification, while HLB-affected leaves from the Bordeaux HLB collection produced the characteristic amplicons with both sets of primers. The 43 symptomatic and the 25 symptomless leaf samples were then analyzed using PCR with universal primers for amplification of bacterial 16S rDNA (4). All symptomatic leaf samples, but none of the symptomless leaf samples, yielded the same 16S rDNA amplification product, indicating the presence of a bacterium in the symptomatic leaves. This was confirmed using the observation of a sieve tube restricted bacterium by electron microscopy. The 16S rDNA product was cloned, sequenced, and compared with those of “Ca. L. africanus” and “Ca. L. asiaticus”. While the 16S rDNAs of these two liberibacter species have 97.5% sequence identity, the 16S rDNA sequence of the new bacterium shared only 93.7% identity with that of “Ca. L. asiaticus” and 93.9% with that of “Ca. L. africanus”. The 16S rDNA sequence of the new bacterium had a secondary loop structure characteristic of the α subdivision of the proteobacteria and possessed all the oligonucleotide signatures characteristic of the liberibacters. For these reasons, the new bacterium is a liberibacter and is sufficiently different phylogenetically from known liberibacters to warrant a new species, “Candidatus Liberibacter americanus”. Specific PCR primers for amplification of the 16S rDNA of the new species have been developed. They were able to detect “Ca. L. americanus” in 214 symptomatic leaf samples from 47 citrus farms in 35 municipalities, while the “old” species, “Ca. L. asiaticus”, has been found only four times within the 47 farms. References: (1) A. Hocquellet et al. Mol. Cell. Probes, 13:373, 1999. (2) S. Jagoueix et al. Int. J. Syst. Bacteriol. 44:379, 1994. (3) S. Jagoueix et al. Mol. Cell. Probes 10:43, 1996. (4) W. G. Weisburg et al. J. Bacteriol. 173:697, 1991.
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) is the most important cash crop in Bhutan and plantations total approximately 1.8 million trees (Ministry of Agriculture, Thimphu, Bhutan, 2000). Most trees are a local mandarin variety. Seedlings trees are produced by local farmers or supplied by Druk Seed Nursery. Mandarin seedlings have also been introduced from India. In the mid-1990s, mandarin trees growing in Punakha Valley and Wangdue districts began showing symptoms of decline that included sparse yellow foliage and shoot die-back. After initial surveys in 2000, huanglongbing (HLB) was suspected as the cause of declining trees based on symptomatology and presence of the psyllid vector Diaphorina citri, but no confirmatory tests were carried out. In August 2002, we surveyed eight locations in the valley from Rimchu (North) to Kamichu (South). HLB-like leaf mottle symptoms were observed on declining mandarin trees at all locations at altitudes ranging from 700 to 1,450 m. Orchards around Punakha (1,350m) in the center of the valley were more severely affected. Symptoms were also observed on Mexican lime (Citrus aurantifolia), citron (Citrus medica), and on tangelo trees (Minneola, Seminola, and Iyo) introduced originally as certified HLB-free budwoods from Corsica, France and grafted onto Rangpur lime at the Wangdue Research Center (1,300m). Leaves were collected from symptomatic trees and three declining mandarin trees without characteristic leaf mottle symptoms. Two specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the detection of HLB Liberibacter species (1,2) were carried out on 16 DNA samples extracted from leaf mid-veins of 10 mandarins, two Mexican limes, three tangelos, and one citron tree. “Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus” was readily detected by both PCR assays in all but two samples (one mandarin with noncharacteristic symptoms and citron) and all sampled orchards. The presence in the Wangdue Research Center of liberibacter infected trees, propagated from certified HLB-free budwoods, suggests that natural spread of the HLB by D. citri is occuring, as the psyllid had been identified previously in the Punakha area by Bhutanese Entomologists. It is likely that the disease was originally introduced as infected planting material although its source has not been determined. References: (1) A. Hocquellet et al. Mol. Cell. Probes 13:373, 1999. (2) S. Jagoueix et al. Mol. Cell.Probes 10:43,1996.