First Report of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma mali,’ the Causal Agent of Apple Proliferation Disease, in Apple Trees in Finland

Lemmetty et al. (2013). Plant Disease 97 (10)
Ca. Phytoplasma mali
Agronomy and Crop Science Plant Science
Based on an earlier survey of putative psyllid vectors of apple proliferation (AP), carried out in 2009 and 2010, Cacopsylla picta (Förster) populations infected with ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma mali’ were detected in at least two commercial apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) orchards in southern Finland (1). To establish the presence of ‘Ca. P. mali’ in apple trees, a survey was conducted in 17 commercial apple orchards in August 2012. Phytosanitary inspectors tracked the source of the ‘Ca. P. mali’ by collecting 33 leaf samples from trees showing probable symptoms. Typical symptoms, including elongated stipules and witches' broom, were rare. Total DNA was extracted from leaves using a DNeasy Plant Mini Kit (Qiagen, Hilden, Germany) and screened for ‘Ca. P. mali’ with real-time PCR (2) and the commercial Apple Proliferation Group – complete PCR reaction kit (Loewe Biochemica GmbH, Sauerlach, Germany). Two samples tested positive and results were confirmed with TaqMan PCR and conventional PCR assays and DNA sequencing in the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), in the United Kingdom. One positive sample was taken from an orchard in Lohja, southern Finland, where high ‘Ca. P. mali’ incidence in overwintered C. picta was observed in 2010 (1). ‘Ca. P. mali’ was found in a >40-year-old ‘Red Melba’ tree with witches' broom but without elongated stipule symptoms. The other positive sample was collected from an orchard in the Aland Islands, where the infected ‘Lobo’ tree showed symptoms of elongated stipules. This orchard was not monitored for AP vectors. No small fruit symptoms were noted by inspectors or growers in either of the orchards. The positive samples were further analyzed for subtypes using PCR/RFLP and primers AP13/AP10 (3). The amplicons (776 bp) were sequenced and digested with HincII and BspHI (New England BioLabs Inc., Ipswich, MA) following manufacturer's instructions. Both samples proved to be apple proliferation subtypes AT-1 on the basis of RFLP and the sequenced 776-bp region. Sequences of the 776-bp amplicon of the Lohja and Aland isolates showed 100% and 99% identity, respectively, with sequences of apple proliferation isolates (accession nos. L22217.1 and CU469464.1) in GenBank. Both suspected psyllid vectors of ‘Ca. P. mali’ C. picta and C. melanoneura (Förster) occur in Finland, but their distribution, abundance, and transmission specificity is inadequately documented. The next step to evaluate the risk of spread of apple proliferation in commercial orchards is an extensive survey of the occurrence of Cacopsylla species infected with ‘Ca. P. mali’. References: (1) A. Lemmetty et al. B. Insectol. 64:257, 2011. (2) P. Nikolić et al. Mol. Cell. Probes. 24:303, 2010. (3) W. Jarausch et al. Mol. Cell. Probes 14:17, 2000.
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