Phytoplasma associated with witches’ broom disease of a weed plant

(A) Healthy C. bonplandianum plant twigs with inflorescences
(B and C) Symptomatic plants showing witches’ broom, yellowing and little leaf symptoms

Croton bonplandianum is an exotic weed which is wide spreaded in South America and in many countries of the Indian subcontinent. C.bonplandianum is commonly known as three-leaved caper, “Ban Tulsi”, or “Kala Bhangra”. In India, this weed primarily grows in barren lands with sandy clay soil, and is commonly found in the fields of paddy, sugarcane, vegetable and fields of pulse crops. This weed is used in traditional medicine. Other species of the genus Croton are used as ornamentals, indoor plants and are potential biofuel source.

Phytoplasma is a group of extremely small bacteria. They don’t have a cell wall and any particular shape. Phytoplasma was first identified by a Japanese scientist Yoji Doi as ‘mycoplasma-like-organisms’ in 1967. They are bacterial parasites of plants and insects.  The study was conducted by researchers at NCMR pune in order to understand whether there is any phytoplasma association with the witches’ broom disease in C.bonplandianum plant. In this study, four symptomatic plants showing typical witches’ broom, little leaf, yellowing, virescence and phyllody symptoms along with healthy samples were collected from Baramati, India. To confirm the phytoplasma presence, leaves and floral whorls were used for total DNA extraction and further experiments were performed.

The study reported 16SrII group phytoplasma association with witches’ broom disease of C. bonplandianum. This is the first identification of a ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma australasia’-related strains in C. bonplandianum showing witches’ broom symptoms. Studying phytoplasma infection in these weeds becomes highly significant in agriculture as they cause devastating yield losses in diverse crops worldwide. Early identification of phytoplasmas infecting weed is crucial to verify the possibility of the spread of phytoplasmas diseases to commercial crops.


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