Seasonal colonisation of apple trees by ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma mali’ revealed by a new quantitative TaqMan real-time PCR approach
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- Baric, S., Berger, J., Cainelli, C. et al. Eur J Plant Pathol (2011) 129: 455. doi:10.1007/s10658-010-9706-x
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Apple proliferation (AP), caused by ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma mali’, is an economically important disease affecting many apple-growing areas in Europe. A new TaqMan real-time PCR assay was established for absolute quantification of ‘Ca. P. mali’ by using a single-copy gene of the host plant as a reference, which is amplified with the pathogen DNA in a single-tube reaction. Normalised estimates of phytoplasma concentration are ultimately expressed as the number of phytoplasma cells per host plant cell. The assay was used to monitor the ‘Ca. P. mali’ titre over the course of two growing seasons in roots and branches of symptomatic and asymptomatic but AP-positive apple trees. All 252 root samples from symptomatic and asymptomatic trees tested positive, with an average number of 59.8 ± 5.68 (standard error) and 55.1 ± 9.83 ‘Ca. P. mali’ per host cell, respectively. From the 378 shoot samples analysed, 81% of the symptomatic and only 20% of the asymptomatic samples were AP-positive with an average number of 9.4 ± 1.04 and 0.7 ± 0.13 ‘Ca. P. mali’ per host cell, respectively. This strengthens evidence that not the pathogen occurrence alone but the presence of a certain quantity of ‘Ca. P. mali’ in the aerial tree sections is involved in symptom expression. In addition, pronounced seasonality of the phytoplasma concentration was found, not only in branches, but also for the first time in roots of symptomatic and asymptomatic apple trees. Highest phytoplasma levels in roots were detected from December to May.