AbstractHuanglongbing (HLB), or Citrus Greening, is one of the most devastating diseases affecting agriculture today. Widespread throughout Citrus growing regions of the world, it has had severe economic consequences in all areas it has invaded. With no treatment available, management strategies focus on suppression and containment. Effective use of these costly control strategies relies on rapid and accurate identification of infected plants. Unfortunately, symptoms of the disease are slow to develop and indistinct from symptoms of other biotic/abiotic stressors. As a result, diagnosticians have focused on detecting the pathogen, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, by DNA-based detection strategies utilizing leaf midribs for sampling. Recent work has shown that fibrous root decline occurs in HLB-affected trees before symptom development among leaves. Moreover, the pathogen, Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus, has been shown to be more evenly distributed within roots than within the canopy. Motivated by these observations, a longitudinal study of young asymptomatic trees was established to observe the spread of disease through time and test the relative effectiveness of leaf- and root-based detection strategies. Detection of the pathogen occurred earlier, more consistently, and more often in root samples than in leaf samples. Moreover, little influence of geography or host variety was found on the probability of detection.
Detection of ‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’ represents one of the most difficult, yet critical, steps of controlling Huanglongbing disease. Efficient detection relies on understanding the underlying distribution of bacteria within trees. To that end, we studied the distribution of ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ in leaves of ‘Rio Red’ grapefruit trees and in roots of ‘Valencia’ sweet orange trees grafted onto sour orange rootstock. We performed two sets of leaf collection on grapefruit trees; the first a selective sampling targeting symptomatic leaves and their neighbors and the second a systematic collection disregarding symptomology. From uprooted orange trees, we exhaustively sampled fibrous roots. In this study, the presence of ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ was detected in leaves using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) targeting the 16S ribosomal gene and in roots using the rpIJ/rpIL ribosomal protein genes and was confirmed with conventional PCR and sequencing of the rpIJ/rpIL gene in both tissues. Among randomly collected leaves, ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ was distributed in a patchy fashion. Detection of ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ varied with leaf symptomology with symptomatic leaves showing the highest frequency (74%) followed by their neighboring asymptomatic leaves (30%), while randomly distributed asymptomatic leaves had the lowest frequency (20%). Among symptomatic leaves, we found statistically significant differences in mean number of bacterial cells with respect to both increasing distance of the leaf from the trunk and cardinal direction. The titer of ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ cells was significantly greater on the north side of trees than on the south and west sides. Moreover, these directions showed different spatial distributions of ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ with higher titers near the trunk on the south and west sides as opposed to further from the trunk on the north side. Similarly, we found spatial variation in ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ distribution among root samples. ‘Ca. L. asiaticus’ was detected more frequently and bacterial abundances were higher among horizontally growing roots just under the soil surface (96%) than among deeper vertically growing roots (78%). Bacterial abundance declined slightly with distance from the trunk. These results point to paths of research that will likely prove useful to combating this devastating disease.