Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a valuable ornamental species widely planted in Brazil. Many plants are affected by witches' broom disease, which is characterized by excessive axillary branching, abnormally small leaves, and deformed flowers, symptoms that are characteristic of diseases attributed to phytoplasmas. A phytoplasma was detected in diseased Hibiscus by amplification of rRNA operon sequences by PCRs, and was characterized by RFLP and nucleotide sequence analyses of 16S rDNA. The collective RFLP patterns of amplified 16S rDNA differed from the patterns described previously for other phytoplasmas. On the basis of the RFLP patterns, the hibiscus witches' broom phytoplasma was classified in a new 16S rRNA RFLP group, designated group 16SrXV. A phylogenetic analysis of 16S rDNA sequences from this and other phytoplasmas identified the hibiscus witches' broom phytoplasma as a member of a distinct subclade (designated subclade xiv) of the class Mollicutes. A phylogenetic tree constructed on the basis of 16S rRNA gene sequences was consistent with the hypothesis that there was divergent evolution of hibiscus witches' broom phytoplasma and its closest relatives (members of 16S rRNA RFLP group 16SrII) from a common ancestor. On the basis of unique properties of the DNA from hibiscus witches' broom phytoplasma, it is proposed that it represents a new taxon, namely 'Candidatus Phytoplasma brasiliense'.


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