Molecular identification of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma palmicola’ associated with coconut lethal yellowing in Equatorial Guinea

Bertaccini et al. (2023). Annals of Applied Biology
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Agronomy and Crop Science
AbstractDuring the past two decades, a high mortality of coconut palms was observed in the coastal areas of Equatorial Guinea. Reportedly, the palm population has been reduced by 60%–70%, and coconut production has decreased accordingly. To identify the cause of the mortality, a survey was carried out in April 2021 in various localities of the coconut belt. Molecular analyses carried out on 16S rRNA and secA genes detected phytoplasma presence in the majority of the samples. Sequencing and BLAST search of the 16S rRNA gene sequences showed >99% identity of the detected phytoplasmas to ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma palmicola’. The RFLP analyses of 16S ribosomal gene using Tru1I and TaqI enzymes led to assign these phytoplasmas to subgroup 16SrXXII‐A. In all samples that tested positive, including one from a hybrid coconut palm and two from oil palm the same phytoplasma was identified. The phylogenetic analyses of 16S rRNA and secA genes confirmed respectively 99.98%–100% and 97.94%–100% identity to ‘Ca. P. palmicola’. RFLP analyses using MboII enzyme on the secA gene amplicon differentiated the phytoplasma found in Equatorial Guinea from those present in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The Equatorial Guinean phytoplasma strain resulted to be identical to the strains from Mozambique, confirming the presence of a geographic differentiation among phytoplasma strains in the coastal areas of Western and Central Africa. The identified phytoplasma is different from the ‘Ca. P. palmicola’ strains found in Ghana and Ivory Coast and represents the first identification a 16SrXXII‐A strain in Equatorial Guinea and in Central Africa. Strict monitoring and surveillance procedures for early detection of the pathogen are strongly recommended to reduce its impact and further spread in the country and permit the recovery of coconut plantations.
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