IUBMB life, vol. 59, issue 4-5 (2007) pp. 346-354
The state of São Paulo (SSP) is the first sweet orange growing region in the world. Yet, the SSP citrus industry has been, and still is, under constant attack from various diseases. In the 1940s, tristeza-quick decline (T-QD) was responsible for the death of 9 million trees in SSP. The causal agent was a new virus, citrus tristeza virus (CTV). The virus was efficiently spread by aphid vectors, and killed most of the trees grafted on sour orange rootstock. Control of the disease resided in replacing sour orange by alternative rootstocks giving tolerant combinations with scions such as sweet orange. Because of its drought resistance, Rangpur lime became the favourite alternative rootstock, and, by 1995, 85% of the SSP sweet orange trees were grafted on this rootstock. Therefore, when in 1999, many trees grafted on Rangpur lime started to decline and suddenly died, the spectre of T-QD seemed to hang over SSP again. By 2003, the total number of dead or affected trees was estimated to be over one million. The new disease, citrus sudden death (CSD), resembles T-QD in several aspects. The two diseases have almost the same symptoms, they spread in time and space in a manner strikingly similar, and the pathological anatomy of the bark at the bud union is alike. Transmission of the CSD agent by graft-inoculation has been obtained with budwood inoculum taken not only on CSD-affected trees (grafted on Rangpur lime), but also on symptomless trees (grafted on Cleopatra mandarin) from the same citrus block. This result shows that symptomless trees on Cleopatra mandarin are tolerant to the CSD agent. Trees on rootstocks such as Sunki mandarin or Swingle citrumelo are also tolerant. Thus, in the CSD-affected region, control consists in replacing Rangpur lime with compatible rootstocks, or in approach-grafting compatible rootstock seedlings to the scions of trees on Rangpur lime (inarching). More than 5 million trees have been inarched in this way. A new disease of sweet orange, citrus variegated chlorosis (CVC), was observed in 1987 in the Triangulo Mineiro of Minas Gerais State and the northern and north-eastern parts of SSP. By 2000, the disease affected already 34% of the 200 million sweet orange trees in SSP. By 2005, the percentage had increased to 43%, and CVC was present in all citrus growing regions of Brazil. Electron microscopy showed that xylem-limited bacteria were present in all symptomatic sweet orange leaves and fruit tissues tested, but not in similar materials from healthy, symptomless trees. Bacteria were consistently cultured from twigs of CVC-affected sweet orange trees but not from twigs of healthy trees. Serological analyses showed the CVC bacterium to be a strain of Xylella fastidiosa. The disease could be reproduced and Koch's postulates fulfilled, by mechanically inoculating a pure culture of X. fastidiosa isolate 8.1.b into sweet orange seedlings. The genome of a CVC strain of X. fastidiosa was sequenced in SSP in the frame of a project supported by FAPESP and Fundecitrus. X. fastidiosa is the first plant pathogenic bacterium, the genome of which has been sequenced. Until recently, America was free of huanglongbing (HLB), but in March 2004 and August 2005, symptoms of the disease were recognized, respectively in the State of São Paulo (SSP) and in Florida, USA. HLB was known in China since 1870 and in South Africa since 1928. Because of its destructiveness and its rapid spread by efficient psyllid insect-vectors, HLB is probably the most serious citrus disease. HLB is caused by a phloem sieve tube-restricted Gram negative bacterium, not yet available in culture. In the 1990s, the bacterium was characterized by molecular techniques as a member of the alpha proteobacteria designated Candidatus Liberibacter africanus for the disease in Africa, and Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus for HLB in Asia. In SSP, Ca. L. asiaticus is also present, but most of the trees are infected with a new species, Candidatus Liberibacter americanus.
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