Phylogeny of geminivirus coat protein sequences and digital PCR aid in identifying Spissistilus festinus as a vector of grapevine red blotch-associated virus.
Grapevine red blotch-associated virus (GRBaV) is a single-stranded DNA virus, proposed to be a member of the family Geminiviridae, and is associated with grapevines showing red blotch symptoms in North America. The existence of the virus was reported in 2012, and subsequently detected in grapevines in major grape production regions. We investigated if a vector exists that can transmit GRBaV in vineyards. Phylogenetic analysis of the predicted amino acid sequence of coat protein (CP) of GRBaV with the CP of 23 geminiviruses representing all seven genera of the family Geminiviridae revealed that GRBaV-CP was most similar to that of Tomato pseudo-curly top virus, a geminivirus known to be transmitted by a treehopper (Membracidae), a family that is closely related to leafhoppers (Cicadellidae). To identify vectors of GRBaV, hemipteran species within and nearby wine grape vineyards where virus spread was suspected were collected and transmission assays were conducted. Among the species tested, the three-cornered alfalfa hopper Spissistilus festinus (Hemiptera: Membracidae) was able to both acquire the virus from a grapevine infected with GRBaV and transmit the virus to healthy grapevines in the laboratory. In commercial vineyards, lateral shoots of grapevines girdled due to feeding injury by the adult three-cornered alfalfa hopper also tested positive for the virus using digital PCR. These findings represent an important step in understanding the biology of GRBaV and develop management guidelines.