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Asymptomatic Phytoplasma Reveal a Novel and Troublesome Infection

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)

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  • Philip Donkersley
  • Farley W.S. Silva
  • Murilo S. Alves
  • Claudine M. Carvalho
  • Abdullah M. Al-Sadi
  • Simon L Elliot
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Abstract

Asymptomatic infections are by their nature challenging to study and even more difficult to monitor across broad geographical ranges, particularly as methods are reliant on expensive molecular techniques. The plant pathogen that causes Witches’ Broom disease of lime (Candidatus Phytoplasma aurantifolia) is a major limiting factor in lime production across the Middle East and was recently detected in Brazil, but without the typical symptoms from the Middle East. Here, we discuss the difficulty of monitoring asymptomatic infections and highlight the threat posed by highlight future outbreaks. Asymptomatic infections have important implications for understanding the evolution of pathogens within perennial hosts. We use three model systems of asymptomatic infections: (i) a Phytoplasma and (ii) a bacterial infection of lime (Citrus aurantifolia) and (iii) an “out-group” Phytoplasma of Cassava (Manihot esculenta) to demonstrate consistency across divergent hosts. We found that although all plants in the study were intentionally infected, assays typically did not confirm this diagnosis. Emergent technologies monitoring gene expression could be used to both study novel biology associated with asymptomatic infections and develop monitoring technologies. We highlight the difficulty of monitoring asymptomatic infections in possible future outbreaks and have important implications for understanding the evolution of pathogens within perennial hosts.