Stone fruits are a multibillion-dollar industry for the United States and Canada, one that has repeatedly suffered significant economic losses due to outbreaks of the X-disease phytoplasma (‘ Candidatus Phytoplasma pruni’) over the last century. Orchards and entire production areas have been abandoned, with corresponding losses to growers, fruit packers, and consumers. The most recent outbreak, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, resulted in an estimated $65 million (USD) loss in revenue between 2015 and 2020 and is only increasing in incidence. Already present across much of the continental United States and Canada, the phytoplasma has a broad host range beyond stone fruit and is transmitted by at least eight leafhopper species, therefore stone fruit production in every state is at significant risk. This recovery plan was produced as part of the National Plant Disease Recovery System and is intended to provide a review of pathogen biology, assess the status of critical recovery components, and identify disease management research, extension, and education needs.
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.