Molecular and physiological properties associated with zebra complex disease in potatoes and its relation with Candidatus Liberibacter contents in psyllid vectors.
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Zebra complex (ZC) disease on potatoes is associated with Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (CLs), an -proteobacterium that resides in the plant phloem and is transmitted by the potato psyllid Bactericera cockerelli (ulc). The name ZC originates from the brown striping in fried chips of infected tubers, but the whole plants also exhibit a variety of morphological features and symptoms for which the physiological or molecular basis are not understood. We determined that compared to healthy plants, stems of ZC-plants accumulate starch and more than three-fold total protein, including gene expression regulatory factors (e.g. cyclophilin) and tuber storage proteins (e.g., patatins), indicating that ZC-affected stems are reprogrammed to exhibit tuber-like physiological properties. Furthermore, the total phenolic content in ZC potato stems was elevated two-fold, and amounts of polyphenol oxidase enzyme were also high, both serving to explain the ZC-hallmark rapid brown discoloration of air-exposed damaged tissue. Newly developed quantitative and/or conventional PCR demonstrated that the percentage of psyllids in laboratory colonies containing detectable levels of CLs and its titer could fluctuate over time with effects on colony prolificacy, but presumed reproduction-associated primary endosymbiont levels remained stable. Potato plants exposed in the laboratory to psyllid populations with relatively low-CLs content survived while exposure of plants to high-CLs psyllids rapidly culminated in a lethal collapse. In conclusion, we identified plant physiological biomarkers associated with the presence of ZC and/or CLs in the vegetative potato plant tissue and determined that the titer of CLs in the psyllid population directly affects the rate of disease development in plants.