Living with genome instability: The adaptation of phytoplasmas to diverse environments of their insect and plant hosts

Xiaodong Bai, Jianhua Zhang, Adam Ewing, Sally A. Miller, Agnes Jancso Radek, Dmitriy V. Shevchenko, Kiryl Tsukerman, Theresa Walunas, Alla Lapidus, John W. Campbell, Saskia A. Hogenhout*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

343 Scopus citations


Phytoplasmas ("Candidatus Phytoplasma," class Mollicutes) cause disease in hundreds of economically important plants and are obligately transmitted by sap-feeding insects of the order Hemiptera, mainly leafboppers and psyllids. The 706,569-bp chromosome and four plasmids of aster yellows phytoplasma strain witches' broom (AY-WB) were sequenced and compared to the onion yellows phytoplasma strain M (OY-M) genome. The phytoplasmas have small repeat-rich genomes. This comparative analysis revealed that the repeated DNAs are organized into large clusters of potential mobile units (PMUs), which contain tra5 insertion sequences (ISs) and genes for specialized sigma factors and membrane proteins. So far, these PMUs appear to be unique to phytoplasmas. Compared to mycoplasmas, phytoplasmas lack several recombination and DNA modification functions, and therefore, phytoplasmas may use different mechanisms of recombination, likely involving PMUs, for the creation of variability, allowing phytoplasmas to adjust to the diverse environments of plants and insects. The irregular GC skews and the presence of ISs and large repeated sequences in the AY-WB and OY-M genomes are indicative of high genomic plasticity. Nevertheless, segments of ∼250 kb located between the lplA and glnQ genes are syntenic between the two phytoplasmas and contain the majority of the metabolic genes and no ISs. AY-WB appears to be further along in the reductive evolution process than OY-M. The AY-WB genome is ∼154 kb smaller than the OY-M genome, primarily as a result of fewer multicopy sequences, including PMUs. Furthermore, AY-WB lacks genes that are truncated and are part of incomplete pathways in OY-M.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3682-3696
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology


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