‘Candidatus Phytoplasma pruni’ infection in cherries causes small, misshapen fruit with poor color and taste, rendering the fruit unmarketable. However, this is a disease with a long development cycle and a scattered, nonuniform symptom distribution in the early stages. To better understand the biology as well as the relationship between pathogen titer and disease expression, we carried out seasonal, spatial, and temporal examinations of ‘Ca. P. pruni’ titer and distribution in infected orchard-grown trees. Sequential sampling of heavily infected trees revealed marked seasonal patterns, with differential accumulation in woody stem and leaf tissues and, most notably, within fruit in the early stages of development from bloom to pit hardening. Furthermore, mapping phytoplasma distribution and titer in trees at different stages of infection indicated that infection proceeds through a series of stages. Initially, infection spreads basipetally and accumulates in the roots before populating aerial parts of the trees from the trunk upward, with infection of specific tissues and limbs followed by an increasing phytoplasma titer. Finally, we observed a correlation between phytoplasma titer and symptom severity, with severe symptom onset associated with three to four orders of magnitude more phytoplasma than mild symptoms. Cumulatively, these data aid in accurate sampling and management decision-making and furthers our understanding of disease development.
In sweet cherry (Prunus avium), infection by ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma pruni’ results in small fruit with poor color and taste, rendering the fruit unmarketable. Yet the disease pathology is poorly understood, particularly at the cultivar level. Therefore, in this study we examined the physiological effects of Ca. P. pruni infection across a range of cultivars and locations in eastern Washington. We found that infection could be separated into early and established stages based on pathogen titer, which correlated with disease severity, including fruit size, color, and sugar and metabolite content. Furthermore, we observed that the effects of early-stage infections were largely indistinguishable from healthy, uninfected plants. Cultivar- and location-specific disease outcomes were observed with regard to size, color, sugar content, and citric acid content. This study presents the first in-depth assessment of X-disease symptoms and biochemical content of fruit from commercially grown sweet cherry cultivars known to be infected with Ca. P. pruni.