Guilt by association: DNA-barcoding based identification of potential plant hosts of phytoplasmas from their insect carriers

Junichi Inaba, Jonathan Shao, Valeria Trivellone, Yan Zhao, Christopher H. Dietrich, Kristi D. Bottner-Parker, Algirdas Ivanauskas, Wei Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phytoplasmas are small phloem-restricted and insect-transmissible bacteria that infect many plant species, including important crops and ornamental plants, causing severe economic losses. Our previous studies screened phytoplasmas in hundreds of leafhoppers collected from natural habitats worldwide and identified multiple genetically different phytoplasmas in seven leafhopper species (potential insect vectors). As an initial step toward determining the impact of these phytoplasmas on the ecosystem, ribulose 1,5-biphosphate carboxylase large subunit (rbcL), a commonly used plant DNA barcoding marker, was employed to identify the plant species that the phytoplasma-harboring leafhoppers feed on. The DNA of 17 individual leafhoppers was PCR amplified using universal rbcL primers. PCR products were cloned, and five clones per amplicon were randomly chosen for Sanger sequencing. Moreover, Illumina high-throughput sequencing on selected PCR products was conducted and confirmed no missing targets in Sanger sequencing. The nucleotide BLAST results revealed 14 plant species, including six well-known plant hosts of phytoplasmas such as tomato, alfalfa, and maize. The remaining species have not been documented as phytoplasma hosts, expanding our knowledge of potential plant hosts. Notably, the DNA of tomato and maize (apparently cultivated in well-managed croplands) was detected in some phytoplasma-harboring leafhopper species sampled in non-crop lands, suggesting the spillover/spillback risk of phytoplasma strains between crop and non-crop areas. Furthermore, our results indicate that barcoding (or metabarcoding) is a valuable tool to study the three-way interactions among phytoplasmas, plant hosts, and vectors. The findings contribute to a better understanding of phytoplasma host range, host shift, and disease epidemiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-422
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Early online dateOct 26 2022
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • INHS
  • insect migration
  • host switching
  • DNA barcoding
  • potential plant hosts
  • pathogen spillover
  • pathogen reservoir

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Guilt by association: DNA-barcoding based identification of potential plant hosts of phytoplasmas from their insect carriers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this