Titer and Distribution of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma pruni’ in Prunus avium

Wright et al. (2022). Phytopathology® 112 (7)
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Agronomy and Crop Science Plant Science
‘Candidatus Phytoplasma pruni’ infection in cherries causes small, misshapen fruit with poor color and taste, rendering the fruit unmarketable. However, this is a disease with a long development cycle and a scattered, nonuniform symptom distribution in the early stages. To better understand the biology as well as the relationship between pathogen titer and disease expression, we carried out seasonal, spatial, and temporal examinations of ‘Ca. P. pruni’ titer and distribution in infected orchard-grown trees. Sequential sampling of heavily infected trees revealed marked seasonal patterns, with differential accumulation in woody stem and leaf tissues and, most notably, within fruit in the early stages of development from bloom to pit hardening. Furthermore, mapping phytoplasma distribution and titer in trees at different stages of infection indicated that infection proceeds through a series of stages. Initially, infection spreads basipetally and accumulates in the roots before populating aerial parts of the trees from the trunk upward, with infection of specific tissues and limbs followed by an increasing phytoplasma titer. Finally, we observed a correlation between phytoplasma titer and symptom severity, with severe symptom onset associated with three to four orders of magnitude more phytoplasma than mild symptoms. Cumulatively, these data aid in accurate sampling and management decision-making and furthers our understanding of disease development.
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