In Korea, Japanese chestnut trees (Castanea crenata Sieb. and Zucc.) showing symptoms indicative of witches' broom disease, including abnormally small leaves and yellowing of young leaves, were examined. Since the symptoms were suggestive of a phytoplasma infection, tissues were assayed for phytoplasmas by PCR analysis using a pair of universal primers that amplify a 1.4-kbp phytoplasma 16S rDNA fragment. The phytoplasma-specific fragment was amplified from diseased plants, but not from healthy plants, indicating that a phytoplasma was the causal agent of the chestnut witches' broom (CnWB) disease. The phylogenetic relationship of the CnWB phytoplasma to other phytoplasmas was examined by sequence analysis of the 16S rDNA. A phylogenetic analysis of 16S rDNA sequences of the phytoplasmas placed the CnWB phytoplasma within a distinct subgroup in the phytoplasma clade of the class Mollicutes. The phylogenetic tree indicated that the CnWB phytoplasma is related most closely to coconut phytoplasmas and suggested that they share a common ancestor. The unique properties of the CnWB phytoplasma sequences clearly establish that it represents a novel taxon, 'Candidatus Phytoplasma castaneae'.


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