Natural Infection of Southern Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum Interspecific Hybrids) by Xylella fastidiosa subsp. fastidiosa
Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) is an emerging insect-vectored, xylem-limited bacterium that can cause disease on several economically important fruit and tree crops including almond, blueberry, citrus, grapevine, peach, and pecan. On blueberry, Xf causes bacterial leaf scorch (BLS), which is prevalent in the southeastern United States. This disease, previously reported to be caused by Xf subsp. multiplex (Xfin), can result in rapid plant decline and death of southern highbush (SHB) blueberry cultivars. In 2017, a survey of blueberry plantings in southern Georgia (U.S.A.) confirmed the presence of Xf-infected plants in eight of nine sites examined, and seven isolates were cultured from infected plants. Genetic characterization of these isolates through single-locus and multilocus sequence analysis revealed that three isolates from two sites belonged to Xf subsp. fastidiosa (Xff), with significant similarity to isolates from grapevine. After these three isolates were artificially inoculated onto greenhouse-grown SHB blueberries (cv. 'Rebel'), symptoms typical of BLS developed, and Xff infection was confirmed through genetic characterization and reisolation of the bacterium to fulfill Koch's postulates. Because all previously reported Xf isolates from blueberry have been characterized as Xfm, this is the first time that isolation of Xff has been reported from naturally infected blueberry plantings. The potential impact of Xff isolates on disease management in blueberry requires further exploration. Furthermore, given that isolates from both Xfin and Xff were obtained within a single naturally infected blueberry planting, blueberry in southern Georgia may provide opportunities for intersubspecific recombination between Xff and Xfm isolates.