PCR-Based Detection of the Causal Agent of Watermark Disease in Willows (Salix spp.)


American Society for Microbiology


The watermark disease, caused by Brenneria salicis (formerly Erwinia salicis), is of significant concern wherever tree-forming willows are grown or occur naturally. The movement of infected, asymptomatic cuttings is a major cause of pathogen dispersal. A reliable and sensitive diagnostic procedure is necessary for the safe movement of willow planting material. We derived primers from the nucleotide sequence of the 16S rRNA gene of B. salicis for the development of a PCR to detect this pathogen. One set of primers, Es1a-Es4b, directed the amplification of a 553-bp fragment from B. salicis genomic DNA as well as B. salicis cells. PCR products were not observed when genomic DNA was tested for 27 strains of other, related plant-associated bacteria. Genomic fingerprinting by amplification fragment length polymorphism of B. salicis strains, originating from four different countries, and related Brenneria, Pectobacterium, and Erwinia strains revealed a very high similarity among the B. salicis genomes, indicating that the spread of the pathogen is mainly due to the transportation of infected cuttings. The PCR had to be preceded by a DNA extraction in order to detect the pathogen in the vascular fluid of willows. The minimum number of cells that could be detected from vascular fluid was 20 CFU/ml. The PCR assays proved to be very sensitive and reliable in detecting B. salicis in willow plant material.

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