Colonization of dodder, Cuscuta indecora, by 'Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus' and 'Ca. L. americanus'.
Huanglongbing, or citrus greening, threatens the global citrus industry. The presumptive pathogens, 'Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus' and 'Ca. L. americanus' can be transferred from citrus to more easily studied experimental hosts by using holoparasitic dodder plants. However, the interaction between 'Candidatus Liberibacter' spp. and the dodder has not been studied. We combined quantitative polymerase chain reaction with electron microscopy to show that only 65% of tendrils of Cuscuta indecora grown on 'Ca. Liberibacter' spp.-infected host plants had detectable levels of the pathogen. Among tendrils that were colonized by Liberibacter in at least one 2 cm segment, most were not colonized in all segments. Furthermore, the estimated population levels of the pathogen present in serial 2 cm segments of dodder tendrils varied widely and without any consistent pattern. Thus, there was generally not a concentration gradient of the pathogen from the source plant towards the recipient and populations of the pathogen were sometimes found in the distal segments of the dodder plant but not in the proximal or middle segments. Populations of the pathogens ranged from 2×102 to 3.0×108 cells per 2 cm segment. On a fresh weight basis, populations as high as 1.4×1010 cells per g of tissue were observed demonstrating that 'Ca. Liberibacter' spp. multiplies well in Cuscuta indecora. However, 55% of individual stem segments did not contain detectable levels of the pathogen, consistent with a pattern of nonuniform colonization similar to that observed in the much more anatomically complex citrus tree. Colonization of dodder by the pathogen is also nonuniform at the ultrastructural level, with adjacent phloem vessel elements being completely full of the pathogen or free of the pathogen. We also observed bacteria in the phloem vessels that belonged to two distinct size classes based on the diameters of cross sections of cells. In other sections from the same tendrils we observed single bacterial cells that were apparently in the process of differentiating between the large and round forms to the long and thin forms (or vice versa). The process controlling this morphological differentiation of the pathogen is not known. The highly reduced and simplified anatomy of the dodder plant as well as its rapid growth rate compared with citrus, and the ability of the plant to support multiplication of the pathogen to high levels, makes it an interesting host plant for further studies of host-pathogen interactions.