Phytoplasmas are unculturable, cell-wall-less bacteria that parasitize plants and insects. This transkingdom life cycle requires rapid responses to vastly different environments, including transitions from plant phloem sieve elements to various insect tissues and alternations among diverse plant hosts. Features that enable such flexibility in other microbes include simple sequence repeats (SSRs) — mutation-prone, phase-variable short DNA tracts that function as ‘evolutionary rheostats’ and enhance rapid adaptations. To gain insights into the occurrence, distribution and potentially functional roles of SSRs in phytoplasmas, we performed computational analysis on the genomes of five completely sequenced phytoplasma strains, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’-related strains OYM and AYWB, ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma australiense’-related strains CBWB and SLY and ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma mali’-related strain AP-AT. The overall density of SSRs in phytoplasma genomes was higher than in representative strains of other prokaryotes. While mono- and trinucleotide SSRs were significantly overrepresented in the phytoplasma genomes, dinucleotide SSRs and other higher-order SSRs were underrepresented. The occurrence and distribution of long SSRs in the prophage islands and phytoplasma-unique genetic loci indicated that SSRs played a role in compounding the complexity of sequence mosaics in individual genomes and in increasing allelic diversity among genomes. Findings from computational analyses were further complemented by an examination of SSRs in varied additional phytoplasma strains, with a focus on potential contingency genes. Some SSRs were located in regions that could profoundly alter the regulation of transcription and translation of affected genes and/or the composition of protein products.
Strawberry red leaf phytoplasma was found in strawberry plants from production fields in Lules (Tucumán province) and Bella Vista (Corrientes province), Argentina. Characteristic strawberry red leaf symptoms were stunting, young leaves with yellowing at the edges, mature leaves which curled and were reddish at the abaxial face, flower and fruit deformation and death. The pathogen was detected with phytoplasma-universal primer pairs P1/P7 followed by R16F2n/R16R2 as nested primers in 13 diseased plants. Based on RFLP and sequence analysis of the amplified 16S rRNA gene, the phytoplasma was related to the 16SrXIII group (Mexican periwinkle virescence). In silico the RFLP profile of all the samples analysed revealed the presence of a unique pattern, showing that the novel phytoplasma is different from all the phytoplasmas currently composing the 16SrXIII group. The phylogenetic analysis was consistent with RFLP analysis as the strawberry red leaf phytoplasma was grouped within the 16SrXIII group, but formed a particular cluster. On this basis, the Strawberry red leaf phytoplasma associated with strawberry red leaf disease was assigned to a new subgroup, 16SrXIII-F.
Erigeron sp. plants showing symptoms of witches' broom and stunting were found near orchards of passion fruit in São Paulo state, Brazil. These symptoms were indicative of infection by phytoplasmas. Thus, the aim of this study was to detect and identify possible phytoplasmas associated with diseased plants. Total DNA was extracted from symptomatic and asymptomatic plants and used in nested PCR conducted with the primer pairs P1/Tint and R16F2n/16R2. Amplification of genomic fragments of 1.2 kb from the 16S rRNA gene confirmed the presence of phytoplasma in all symptomatic samples. The sequence identity scores between the 16S rRNA gene of the phytoplasma strain identified in the current study and those of previously reported ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma fraxini’-related strains ranged from 98 % to 99 % indicating the phytoplasma to be a strain affiliated with ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma fraxini’. The results from a phylogenetic analysis and virtual RFLP analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequence with 17 restriction enzymes revealed that the phytoplasma strain belongs to the ash yellows phytoplasma group (16SrVII); the similarity coefficient of RFLP patterns further suggested that the phytoplasma represents a novel subgroup, designated 16SrVII-D. The representative of this new subgroup was named EboWB phytoplasma (Erigeron bonariensis Witches' Broom).