Rubbery taproot disease of sugar beet (RTD), associated with ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’, appeared in 2020 on an epidemic scale in northern Serbia and southern Slovakia, situated at opposite edges of the Pannonian Plain. In the affected locations where the disease was assessed, symptomatic sugar beets were analysed for phytoplasma infection. Additionally, multilocus sequence analyses of ‘Ca. P. solani’ strains on epidemiologically informative marker genes (tuf, stamp and vmp1) were performed. Symptomatic sugar beets from other countries of the Pannonian Plain (Croatia, Hungary and Austria), one sample from Germany, and red beets from Serbia were included in the analyses. ‘Ca. P. solani’ was detected in sugar beet in all assessed countries, as well as in red beet. Molecular analyses revealed the high genetic variability of ‘Ca. P. solani’ with the presence of all four tuf-types (a, b1, b2 and d), 14 stamp genotypes (seven new) and five vmp1 profiles (one new). The most common multilocus genotype in Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, and Hungary was dSTOLg (tuf-d/STOL/V2-TA). It was dominant on sites with epidemic RTD outbreaks in the Pannonian Plain and in several sugar beet fields with non-epidemic RTD occurrence suggesting the prevalence of a particular epidemiological pathway during the epidemic’s phases.
Rubbery taproot disease (RTD) of sugar beet was observed in Serbia for the first time in the 1960s. The disease was already described in neighboring Bulgaria and Romania at the time but it was associated with abiotic factors. In this study on RTD of sugar beet in its main growing area of Serbia, we provide evidence of the association between ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma solani’ (stolbur phytoplasma) infection and the occurrence of typical RTD symptomatology. ‘Ca. P. solani’ was identified by PCR and the sequence analyses of 16S ribosomal RNA, tuf, secY, and stamp genes. In contrast, the causative agent of the syndrome “basses richesses” of sugar beet—namely, ‘Ca. Arsenophonus phytopathogenicus’—was not detected. Sequence analysis of the stolbur strain’s tuf gene confirmed a previously reported and a new, distinct tuf stolbur genotype (named ‘tuf d’) that is prevalent in sugar beet. The sequence signatures of the tuf gene as well as the one of stamp both correlate with the epidemiological cycle and reservoir plant host. This study provides knowledge that, for the first time, enables the differentiation of stolbur strains associated with RTD of sugar beet from closely related strains, thereby providing necessary information for further epidemiological work seeking to identify insect vectors and reservoir plant hosts. The results of this study indicate that there are differences in hybrid susceptibility. Clarifying the etiology of RTD as a long-known and economically important disease is certainly the first step toward disease management in Serbia and neighboring countries.