AbstractA recent survey in Germany revealed the wide presence of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma ulmi’ in native elm stands. Accessions were studied for their genetic variability and phylogenetic relationship based on the conserved groEL and the variable imp gene. While the groEL sequences revealed a high intraspecific homology of more than 99%, the homology of the imp gene dropped to 71% between distantly related sequences. Twenty-nine groEL and 74 imp genotypes were distinguished based on polymorphic sites. Phylogenetic analysis of the groEL gene clustered all ‘Ca. P. ulmi’ strains and separated them from related phytoplasmas of the 16SrV group. The inferred phylogeny of the imp gene resulted in a different tree topology and separated the ‘Ca. P. ulmi’ genotypes into two clusters, one closely related to the flavescence dorée phytoplasma strain FD-D (16SrV-D), the other affiliated with the flavescence dorée phytoplasma strains FD-C and FD70 and the alder yellows phytoplasma (16SrV-C). In both phylograms, ‘Ca. P. ulmi’ genotypes from Scots elm trees formed a coherent cluster, while genotypes from European white elms and field elms grouped less strictly. The regional distribution pattern was congruent for some of the groEL and imp genotypes, but a strict linkage for all genotypes was not apparent.
The chromosome sequence of “
Phytoplasma australiense” (subgroup
-A), associated with dieback in papaya, Australian grapevine yellows in grapevine, and several other important plant diseases, was determined. The circular chromosome is represented by 879,324 nucleotides, a GC content of 27%, and 839 protein-coding genes. Five hundred two of these protein-coding genes were functionally assigned, while 337 genes were hypothetical proteins with unknown function. Potential mobile units (PMUs) containing clusters of DNA repeats comprised 12.1% of the genome. These PMUs encoded genes involved in DNA replication, repair, and recombination; nucleotide transport and metabolism; translation; and ribosomal structure. Elements with similarities to phage integrases found in these mobile units were difficult to classify, as they were similar to both insertion sequences and bacteriophages. Comparative analysis of “
Phytoplasma australiense” with “
Phytoplasma asteris” strains OY-M and AY-WB showed that the gene order was more conserved between the closely related “
Phytoplasma asteris” strains than to “
. Phytoplasma australiense.” Differences observed between “
Phytoplasma australiense” and “
Phytoplasma asteris” strains included the chromosome size (18,693 bp larger than OY-M), a larger number of genes with assigned function, and hypothetical proteins with unknown function.
Pinus silvestris and Pinus halepensis trees grown in Germany and Spain, respectively, showing abnormal shoot branching, dwarfed needles and other symptoms were examined for the presence of plant-pathogenic mollicutes (phytoplasmas). While phytoplasmas could not be detected unambiguously with microscopical methods, PCR amplification using universal phytoplasma primers yielded positive results. Samples collected from symptomatic and non-symptomatic plant parts of both symptomatic Pinus silvestris and Pinus halepensis trees tested positive. Also, surrounding non-symptomatic trees proved to be phytoplasma-infected. Comparisons revealed that the 16S rRNA gene sequences of the phytoplasmas identified in Pinus silvestris and Pinus halepensis were nearly identical. However, the pine phytoplasma is only distantly related to other phytoplasmas. The closest relatives are members of the palm lethal yellowing and rice yellow dwarf groups and ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma castaneae’, which share between 94·5 and 96·6 % 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity. From these data it can be concluded that the phytoplasmas identified in the two Pinus species represent a coherent but discrete taxon; it is proposed that this taxon be distinguished at putative species level under the name ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma pini’.
Spartium witches'-broom (SpaWB), buckthorn witches'-broom (BWB) and allocasuarina yellows (AlloY) are witches'-broom and yellows diseases of Spartium junceum (Spanish broom), Rhamnus catharticus (buckthorn) and Allocasuarina muelleriana (Slaty she-oak), respectively. These diseases are associated with distinct phytoplasmas. The SpaWB, BWB and AlloY phytoplasmas share <97·5 % 16S rDNA sequence similarity with each other and with other known phytoplasmas, including the closely related phytoplasmas of the apple proliferation group. Also, the SpaWB, BWB and AlloY phytoplasmas each have a different natural plant host. Based on their unique properties, it is proposed to designate the mentioned phytoplasmas as novel ‘Candidatus’ species under the names ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma spartii’, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma rhamni’ and ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma allocasuarinae’, respectively.