The citrus industry in Florida faces a destructive endemic disease, known as huanglongbing (HLB), associated with Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas), a phloem-limited bacterium, and transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP). Rootstocks are regarded as critical to keep citrus production commercially viable and help trees cope with the disease. Although most scions are susceptible, some rootstocks are HLB-tolerant and may influence ACP infestation and CLas colonization and therefore the grafted tree tolerance. This study aimed to elucidate the relative influence of rootstock and scion on insect vector infestation and CLas colonization under natural HLB-endemic conditions. Seven commercial rootstock cultivars with different genetic backgrounds were grafted with ‘Valencia’ sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) or were self-grafted (non-‘Valencia’) and planted in an open field where ACP and CLas were abundant. ACP infestation was determined weekly during periods of leaf flushing, and leaves and roots were analyzed every 3 months to determine CLas titers. Trees with ‘Valencia’ scion were more attractive to the psyllids than non-‘Valencia’ scions. This was also associated with a higher number of bacteria and a larger abundance of foliar HLB symptoms. The influence of the rootstock on the psyllid attraction of grafted ‘Valencia’ scion was less evident, and leaf CLas titers were similar regardless of the rootstock. Among the non-‘Valencia’ scions, Carrizo had the lowest and US-942 the highest leaf CLas titers. Root CLas titers also varied among cultivars, and standard sour orange roots harbored more bacteria than some trifoliate orange hybrid rootstocks such as US-942. In some trees, CLas was detected first in the roots 4 months after planting, but root CLas titers remained low throughout the study. In contrast, leaf CLas titers increased over time and were considerably higher than root titers from 7 months until the end of the study, 15 months after planting. Overall, the results of this study demonstrate a greater relative influence of the scion than the rootstock on ACP infestation and CLas colonization during the early stages of infection. This suggests that other cultivar-specific traits, such as the ability to tolerate other stresses and to absorb water and nutrients more efficiently, along with influences on the scion phenology, may play a larger role in the rootstock influence on the grafted tree tolerance during the later stages of HLB progression.
Citrus Huanglongbing (HLB, also known as “citrus greening”), an important disease worldwide, is associated with three species of phloem-limited Candidatus liberibacter, of which Candidatus L. asiaticus (CLas) is the predominant one that has severely affected citrus production. TaqMan real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (TM) has been the standard and very efficient method to diagnose several strains of Candidatus Liberibacter in citrus; however, it detects total bacteria and is unable to differentiate dead from live Liberibacter. The detection of only live bacteria is essential for testing methods of control for this important citrus disease. It is well known that ethidium monoazide and propidium monoazide (PMA) are compounds that supposedly enter only dead or membrane-damaged bacteria, intercalate the DNA strand, and make the DNA unavailable for amplification by PCR. These compounds are widely used when extracting the plant DNA to detect only live bacteria. In this research, we tested primers amplifying products from 79 to 1160 bp in TM and SYBR Green real-time PCR (SG) and PMA as DNA intercalating compound. Specifically, primers amplifying a 500-bp amplicon in SG provided the most reliable live-only detection, whereas those producing a smaller amplicon were unable to distinguish between live and dead. This is the first report of testing primers amplifying various amplicon sizes for the detection of only live CLas cells in citrus.
The devastating citrus disease huanglongbing (HLB) associated with the phloem-limited bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) has caused a more than 70% reduction in citrus production since its discovery in Florida in 2005. Most citrus scion cultivars are sensitive to HLB, whereas some cultivars used as rootstocks are tolerant. Using such tolerant rootstocks can help trees to cope better with the disease’s impact. Evaluating rootstock effects on a grafted scion in the field takes many years, but shorter-term evaluation is imperative to aid in rootstock selection for an HLB-endemic production environment. In this study, we investigated grafted healthy and CLas-infected citrus trees under controlled greenhouse conditions. The objectives were to identify traits suitable for assessing grafted tree tolerance in advance of longer-term field studies and aiding in the selection of superior rootstock cultivars. We assessed 10 commercially important rootstocks grafted with ‘Valencia’ sweet orange scion and with known field performance. At 6, 9, 15, and 21 months after graft inoculation (mai), leaf CLas titers were determined and canopy health was evaluated. Plants were destructively sampled at 21 mai to assess plant biomasses and other physiological and horticultural variables. There was little influence of the rootstock cultivar on CLas titers. Surprisingly, few HLB foliar disease symptoms and no differences in soluble and nonsoluble carbohydrate concentrations were measured in infected compared with healthy plants, despite high CLas titers and significant reductions in plant biomasses. Most trees on rootstocks with trifoliate orange parentage were less damaged by HLB than other rootstocks, although results did not always agree with reported field performance. Among the different variables measured, leaf size appeared to be most predictive for grafted tree assessment of HLB sensitivity. The results of this study provide a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of assessing rootstock influence on grafted tree performance in a controlled greenhouse environment. Although such studies provide valuable information for cultivar tolerance to HLB, other rootstock traits will ultimately contribute to field survival and productivity in an HLB endemic production environment.
Grafting a scion onto a rootstock results in physical and physiological changes in plant growth and development, which can affect tree vigor, productivity, and tolerance to stress and disease. Huanglongbing (HLB) is one of the most destructive citrus diseases and has become endemic in Florida since its introduction in 2005. It is associated with the phloem-limited bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas), which cause severe metabolic disruptions in affected plants. Although most scion cultivars are highly susceptible, some rootstock cultivars are tolerant and allow the grafted tree to cope better with the disease. The objectives of this study were to identify rootstock traits that can be used to assess cultivars under controlled greenhouse conditions in advance of longer-term field trials. We used 10 commercially important rootstocks with different genetic backgrounds and known field performance in graft combination with ‘Valencia’ sweet orange scion. Trees were graft-inoculated with CLas and compared against mock-inoculated trees. Tree health and CLas populations were assessed regularly, and root growth was monitored using a minirhizotron imaging system. Plants were excavated and destructively sampled 21 months after inoculation to assess biomass distributions and other CLas-induced effects. We found significant differences between healthy and infected trees for most variables measured, regardless of the rootstock. In contrast to leaf CLas titers, root titers were significantly influenced by the rootstock, and highest levels were measured for ‘Ridge’ sweet orange and sour orange. Root growth and root biomasses were reduced upon infection but differences among rootstocks did not always agree with reported field performances. Despite severe biomass reductions plants maintained their relative distribution of biomass among different components of the root system, and no dead roots were observed. Root respiration was reduced by CLas infection and was overall higher in tolerant cultivars suggesting its potential as a physiological marker. This study improves our knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of assessing rootstock traits of grafted trees in a controlled greenhouse setting. Results from the study suggest that in addition to HLB tolerance, other rootstock traits will ultimately have major contributions to field survival and productivity of the grafted trees in an HLB endemic production environment.
Monitoring the health of Huanglongbing-affected citrus trees by following changes in leaf Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) titer has an inherent element of imprecision because CLas titer varies considerably within the tree canopy and with calendar seasons. In addition, the destructive sampling method used to determine CLas titer entails a different set of leaves per sampling period adding to the inconsistency and inexactitude of the results. To overcome these ambiguities and to reduce the numerical variability between samples, we developed an experimental method that analyzes portions of the same treated leaves for up to four sampling periods. By assaying subsamples of adjacent locations of the same leaf, random variability was significantly reduced, and comparative analysis can be carried out with greater precision.
There is accumulating evidence that root system collapse is a primary symptom associated with Huanglongbing (HLB)-induced tree decline, especially for commercial sweet orange and grapefruit trees on Swingle and Carrizo rootstocks. Maintaining root health is imperative to keep trees productive in an HLB-endemic environment. Preliminary greenhouse and field studies have shown that HLB-impacted trees had secondary and micronutrient deficiencies that were much greater in the roots than in the leaves, and that treatments containing three-times the recommended dose of manganese (Mn) improved tree health and growth and increased feeder root density in greenhouse trees. These results suggested that trees in an HLB-endemic environment have higher specific micronutrient requirements than those currently recommended. To test this hypothesis, established Vernia sweet orange grafted onto rough lemon rootstock trees were divided into eight supplemental CRF nutrition treatments (including two-times and four-times the recommended doses of Mn and boron) using a randomized complete block design in a commercial grove in St. Cloud, FL. The following supplemental nutrition treatments were used: no extra nutrition (control); Harrell’s–St. Helena mix 0.9 kg per tree; Harrell’s with 32 g of Florikan polycoated sodium borate (PSB) per tree; Harrell’s with 90 g of TigerSul® Mn sulfate (MS) per tree; Harrell’s with 32 g of PSB and 90 g of MS per tree; 180 g of MS per tree; 64 g of PSB per tree; and 180 g of MS plus 64 g of PSB per tree applied every 6 months since Fall 2015. Leaf and soil nutritional analyses were performed in Mar. 2017, Sept. 2017, and May 2018; a quantitative polymerase chain reaction was performed for Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) titer estimation in Nov. 2017. Significantly higher cycle threshold (Ct) values indicating reduced CLas bacterial populations were observed in trees that received the higher doses of Mn, especially those receiving four-times the recommended dosage of Mn (180 g Mn). Many trees exhibited Ct values of 32 or more, indicating a nonactive infection. Fruit yields of these trees were also increased. No significant differences in juice characteristics, canopy volume, and trunk section area were found between control plants and plants treated with 180 g Mn. Soil and leaf nutrients B, K, Mn, and Zn were significantly different among treatments at various times during the study. Our results strongly suggest that overdoses of Mn can suppress CLas bacterial titers in sweet orange trees on rough lemon rootstock, thus providing a therapeutic effect that can help restore tree health and fruit yields. This response was not observed when Mn and B were combined in the overdose, suggesting an antagonistic effect from B on Mn metabolism. When an overdose of Mn is used, biological functions and tree tolerance lost due to nutritional imbalances caused by HLB might be restored. Further studies are needed to elucidate which metabolic pathways are altered by comparing overdosed and conventionally fertilized HLB-impacted trees and to determine if the observed therapeutic effects can be achieved in trees grafted to other important commercial rootstocks.
Plants inoculated with the huanglongbing (HLB)-associated bacterium, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) typically must be monitored for 8–10 months to identify differences in susceptibility between genotypes. Continuous light is reported to accelerate development of HLB symptoms and field observations suggest that trees girdled by tags or tree ties showed greater symptoms. Therefore, an experiment was conducted assessing HLB susceptibility as influenced by light/dark periods of 12 hours: 12 hours and 24 hours: 0 hours, in combination with scoring tree trunks to disrupt phloem. Sixty trees of each of three citrus genotypes (‘Kuharske’, previously shown to be HLB resistant; rough lemon, previously shown to be HLB tolerant; and ‘Valencia’, highly HLB susceptible) were bud grafted using two CLas-infected buds (rough lemon and citron) per tree on 26 Mar. 2012, and were placed in controlled growth rooms (one 12 hour light: 12 hour dark and one constant light) on 4 June 2012. Ten trees of each genotype in each growth room were scored 10 cm above the soil (cutting through the bark but not the wood) with a knife on 18 July 2012 and the scoring was repeated at the same scoring wounds on 30 Aug. 2012. Trees were removed from growth rooms on 12 Dec. 2012 and subsequently maintained in a greenhouse. At two to three month intervals between June 2012 and May 2013, HLB symptoms and stem diameter at 5 cm above the soil were assessed, and three leaves per tree were collected for quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) determination of CLas titer. Six months after inoculation and 3 months following imposition of treatments, the ‘Valencia’ scored in the 12 hour light: 12 hour dark regime, the ‘Valencia’ non scored trees in 24 hours of light and the ‘Kuharske’ scored trees in 24 hours of light displayed higher CLas titers than most other trees. After an additional two months, both scored and non-scored trees of all three genotypes in 24 hours of light had significantly elevated CLas titers compared with trees in 12 hour light: 12 hour dark regime, but within most treatments all three genotypes had titers which were not statistically different from each other. Growth of ‘Kuharske’ and rough lemon was enhanced; whereas ‘Valencia’ growth was reduced when graft-inoculated plants were maintained in continuous light. Scoring enhanced early CLas development in ‘Kuharske’ when combined with continuous light, had no effect in rough lemon, and showed inconsistent effects in ‘Valencia’. Although continuous lighting enhanced disease progression, it did not reveal differences in HLB susceptibility.
Assessments of the resistance of citrus germplasm to huanglongbing (HLB) can be expedited by inoculating plants under laboratory or greenhouse settings with the HLB bacterium, Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas). Consistent rapid screening is critical to efficiently assess disease resistance among plant materials; however, a number of factors may govern the efficacy of such inoculations. Despite the rapidity at which HLB can spread in a grove, it often takes 8 to 10 months for high levels of CLas and HLB symptoms to develop even in highly susceptible sweet orange. Therefore, two experiments were conducted to assess factors that might influence efficiency in screening for HLB resistance. In one experiment, three test citrus genotypes (‘Kuharske’, previously shown to be HLB resistant; rough lemon, previously shown to be HLB tolerant; and ‘Valencia’, HLB susceptible) were bud grafted using CLas-infected buds from four different source genotypes. All bud source genotypes had similar levels of CLas titer, but citron, rough lemon, and Volkamer lemon were hypothesized to be better bud inoculum sources as they are more tolerant of HLB than ‘Valencia’. Among the three test genotypes over all sources of infected buds, inoculations of ‘Kuharske’ resulted in lower CLas titers and fewer HLB symptoms than inoculations of rough lemon or ‘Valencia’. Inoculations of rough lemon resulted in higher CLas titers and more pronounced HLB symptoms when it was inoculated using infected buds from rough lemon or ‘Valencia’. Grafting ‘Valencia’ with infected buds from Volkamer lemon resulted in less disease than when ‘Valencia’ was grafted with infected citron, rough lemon, or ‘Valencia’ buds. Overall, these results suggest that the source of CLas-infected buds used to graft-inoculate some genotypes will influence disease development. Trunk cross-sectional area increase for the year following infection was 3× higher in ‘Kuharske’ and rough lemon, compared with ‘Valencia’. ‘Kuharske’ had very low levels of CLas (30 CLas/µg DNA), whereas ‘Valencia’ (43,000 CLas/µg DNA) and rough lemon (6700 CLas/ µg DNA) had relatively high levels. As an alternative to graft-inoculating plants with CLas-infected buds, plants can be subjected to infestations of CLas-infected Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) as occurs naturally. Of interest is if transmission rates of CLas and the development of HLB in a genotype are greater when the ACP have been feeding on the same host genotype. An experiment was therefore conducted to assess transmission of CLas by ACP reared on CLas-infected rough lemon to five different genotypes (‘Carrizo’, ‘Flame’ grapefruit, rough lemon, ‘Temple’, and ‘Valencia’). These assessments were made using a detached leaf assay recognized as a faster method of gauging transmission rates of CLas than using whole plants. Higher percentages of ACP died when they were transferred from infected rough lemon to healthy ‘Carrizo’, and lower percentages died when they were transferred to rough lemon or ‘Flame’. However, CLas transmission by infected ACP occurred to at least some leaves of each genotype in each of the five different assays, with 70% or more leaves of each genotype becoming infected in at least one assay. Over all assays, there was relatively little variation among genotypes in the percentage of leaves becoming CLas infected and in the titer of CLas developing in infected leaves. However, there were relatively large differences in transmission rates among individual assays unrelated to differences among test genotypes. Because of the rapidity of the detached leaf assay, efforts are merited to improve consistency of this inoculation method.
Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (Las) is a phloem-limited bacterium associated with huanglongbing (HLB), one of the most destructive diseases of citrus in Florida and other citrus-producing countries. Natural transmission of Las occurs by the psyllid vector Diaphorina citri, but transmission can also occur through grafting with diseased budwood. As a result of the difficulty of maintaining Las in culture, screening of citrus germplasm for HLB resistance often relies on graft inoculation as the mode of pathogen transmission. This study evaluates transmission efficiencies and HLB progression in graft-inoculated and psyllid-inoculated citrus under greenhouse and natural conditions in the field. Frequencies of transmission in graft-inoculated greenhouse-grown plants varied between experiments and were as high as 90% in susceptible sweet orange plants 6 to 12 months after inoculation. Transmission frequency in a tolerant Citrus × Poncirus genotype (US-802) was 31% to 75%. In contrast, transmission of Las after controlled psyllid inoculation did not exceed 38% in any of four experiments in this study. Whereas the time from inoculation to detection of Las by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was faster in psyllid-inoculated US-802 plants compared with graft-inoculated US-802 plants, it was similar in graft- and psyllid-inoculated sweet orange plants. HLB symptom expression was indistinguishable in graft- and psyllid-inoculated plants but was not always associated with the number of bacteria in affected leaves. The highest number of Las genomes per gram leaf tissue measured in sweet orange plants was one to four × 107 in graft-inoculated plants and one to two × 107 in psyllid-inoculated plants. Highest numbers measured in tolerant US-802 plants were one to three × 106 and two to six × 106, respectively. Compared with artificial inoculation in a greenhouse setting, natural inoculation of field-grown sweet orange trees occurred at a much slower pace, requiring more than 1 year for infection incidence to reach 50% and a minimum of 3 years to reach 100%.
The Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri Kuwayama, one of the known vectors for citrus greening disease or Huanglongbing (HLB) pathogens, has been present in Texas for over a decade, but the detection of the disease is recent. HLB has been confirmed in only two adjacent commercial citrus groves of grapefruit and sweet orange. A study was conducted to compare the population of Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas) cells in different plant parts including peduncle, columella, leaves, seeds, young shoots, flower buds, flowers, and bark of 6-year-old known infected grapefruit and sweet orange trees. The bacterial population was estimated using a previously described grand universal regression equation Y = 13.82 – 0.2866X, where Y is the log of the target copy number and X is the Ct (threshold cycle) of the assay. Except for bark tissue, there was no significant difference in the concentration of CLas cells in other plant parts between the two cultivars. Within the cultivar, the bacterial concentration also varied with the plant part, with peduncle, columella, midrib having significantly higher titer of CLas compared with other plant parts. The obtained results here are in agreement with previous studies conducted on Florida samples, but the consistently lowest bacterial titer recorded in young shoots, leaf blade, and especially leaf margins relative to the midrib has never been previously reported.