Phytoplasmas - the "Crouching Tiger" threat of Australian plant pathology

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Phytoplasmas are insect-vectored bacteria that cause disease in a wide range of plant species. The increasing availability of molecular DNA analyses, expertise and additional methods in recent years has led to a proliferation of discoveries of phytoplasma-plant host associations and in the numbers of taxonomic groupings for phytoplasmas. The widespread use of common names based on the diseases with which they are associated, as well as separate phenetic and taxonomic systems for classifying phytoplasmas based on variation at the 16S rRNA-encoding gene, complicates interpretation of the literature. We explore this issue and related trends through a focus on Australian pathosystems, providing the first comprehensive compilation of information for this continent, covering the phytoplasmas, host plants, vectors and diseases. Of the 33 16Sr groups reported internationally, only groups I, II, III, X, XI and XII have been recorded in Australia and this highlights the need for ongoing biosecurity measures to prevent the introduction of additional pathogen groups. Many of the phytoplasmas reported in Australia have not been sufficiently well studied to assign them to 16Sr groups so it is likely that unrecognized groups and sub-groups are present. Wide host plant ranges are apparent among well studied phytoplasmas, with multiple crop and non-crop species infected by some. Disease management is further complicated by the fact that putative vectors have been identified for few phytoplasmas, especially in Australia. Despite rapid progress in recent years using molecular approaches, phytoplasmas remain the least well studied group of plant pathogens, making them a “crouching tiger” disease threat.
Original languageEnglish
Article number599
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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