Specialized 16SrX phytoplasmas induce diverse morphological and physiological changes in their respective fruit crops
The host-pathogen combinations-Malus domestica (apple)/`Candidatus Phytoplasma mali´, Prunus persica (peach)/`Ca. P. prunorum´ and Pyrus communis (pear)/`Ca. P. pyri´ show different courses of diseases although the phytoplasma strains belong to the same 16SrX group. While infected apple trees can survive for decades, peach and pear trees die within weeks to few years. To this date, neither morphological nor physiological differences caused by phytoplasmas have been studied in these host plants. In this study, phytoplasma-induced morphological changes of the vascular system as well as physiological changes of the phloem sap and leaf phytohormones were analysed and compared with non-infected plants. Unlike peach and pear, infected apple trees showed substantial reductions in leaf and vascular area, affecting phloem mass flow. In contrast, in infected pear mass flow and physicochemical characteristics of phloem sap increased. Additionally, an increased callose deposition was detected in pear and peach leaves but not in apple trees in response to phytoplasma infection. The phytohormone levels in pear were not affected by an infection, while in apple and peach trees concentrations of defence- and stress-related phytohormones were increased. Compared with peach and pear trees, data from apple suggest that the long-lasting morphological adaptations in the vascular system, which likely cause reduced sap flow, triggers the ability of apple trees to survive phytoplasma infection. Some phytohormone-mediated defences might support the tolerance.