The tomato psyllid, Bactericera cockerelli Šulc (Hemiptera: Triozidae), is a pest of solanaceous crops such as tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) in the U.S. and vectors the disease-causing pathogen ‘Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum’ (or Lso). Disease symptom severity is dependent on Lso haplotype: tomato plants infected with Lso haplotype B experience more severe symptoms and higher mortality compared to plants infected with Lso haplotype A. By characterizing the molecular differences in the tomato plant’s responses to Lso haplotypes, the key components of LsoB virulence can be identified and, thus, targeted for disease mitigation strategies.
To characterize the tomato plant genes putatively involved in the differential immune responses to Lso haplotypes A and B, RNA was extracted from tomato ‘Moneymaker’ leaves 3 weeks after psyllid infestation. Gene expression levels were compared between uninfected tomato plants (i.e., controls and plants infested with Lso-free psyllids) and infected plants (i.e., plants infested with psyllids infected with either Lso haplotype A or Lso haplotype B). Furthermore, expression levels were compared between plants infected with Lso haplotype A and plants infected with Lso haplotype B. A whole transcriptome analysis identified 578 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) between uninfected and infected plants as well as 451 DEGs between LsoA- and LsoB-infected plants. These DEGs were primarily associated with plant defense against abiotic and biotic stressors, growth/development, plant primary metabolism, transport and signaling, and transcription/translation. These gene expression changes suggested that tomato plants traded off plant growth and homeostasis for improved defense against pathogens, especially when infected with LsoB. Consistent with these results, tomato plant growth experiments determined that LsoB-infected plants were significantly stunted and had impaired negative geotropism. However, it appeared that the defense responses mounted by tomatoes were insufficient for overcoming the disease symptoms and mortality caused by LsoB infection, while these defenses could compensate for LsoA infection.
The transcriptomic analysis and growth experiments demonstrated that Lso-infected tomato plants underwent gene expression changes related to abiotic and biotic stressors, impaired growth/development, impaired plant primary metabolism, impaired transport and signaling transduction, and impaired transcription/translation. Furthermore, the transcriptomic analysis also showed that LsoB-infected plants, relative to LsoA-infected, experienced more severe stunting, had improved responses to some stressors and impaired responses to others, had poorer transport and signaling transduction, and had impaired carbohydrate synthesis and photosynthesis.