2019 Volume 95 Issue 7 Pages 401-418
Phytoplasmas, a large group of plant-pathogenic, phloem-inhabiting bacteria were discovered by Japanese scientists in 1967. They are transmitted from plant to plant by phloem-feeding insect hosts and cause a variety of symptoms and considerable damage in more than 1,000 plant species. In the first quarter century following the discovery of phytoplasmas, their tiny cell size and the difficulty in culturing them hampered their biological classification and restricted research to ecological studies such as detection by electron microscopy and identification of insect vectors. In the 1990s, however, tremendous advances in molecular biology and related technologies encouraged investigation of phytoplasmas at the molecular level. In the last quarter century, molecular biology has revealed important properties of phytoplasmas. This review summarizes the history and current status of phytoplasma research, focusing on their discovery, molecular classification, diagnosis of phytoplasma diseases, reductive evolution of their genomes, characteristic features of their plasmids, molecular mechanisms of insect transmission, virulence factors, and chemotherapy.