Phytoplasma transmission by in vitro graft inoculation as a basis for a preliminary screening method for resistance in fruit trees

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In vitro grafting was tested as a technique for inoculating Prunus rootstock Prunus marianna GF 8-1 with European stone fruit yellows (ESFY) phytoplasmas and apple rootstock Malus pumila MM106 with apple proliferation (AP) phytoplasmas. In vitro shoot cultures of ESFY-infected Prunus marianna GF 8-1 and AP-infected Malus pumila MM106 were used as graft inoculum to transmit the phytoplasmas to the respective healthy rootstock. Phytoplasma transmission was assessed after a graft contact of 1, 2 or 3 months. Healthy autografts were used as controls to monitor parameters of in vitro grafting. Successful graft union formation ranged from 58 to 79% irrespective of the plant species and the sanitary state of the graft. Pathogen-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to test the inoculated rootstocks for the presence of ESFY and AP phytoplasmas, respectively. The rate of ESFY phytoplasma transmission in successful Prunus-grafts increased from 69 to 94% with the time of contact. AP phytoplasma transmission to Malus occurred in 80 to 97% of successful grafts. To our knowledge this is the first report of phytoplasma transmission by grafting in vitro. The results provide a good basis for the establishment of a preliminary in vitro screening method for phytoplasma resistance in Prunus and Malus.

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