• disease detection;
  • diagnostics;
  • fragment analysis;
  • Mollicutes;
  • phytoplasma;
  • T-RFLP profile

A terminal restriction fragment analysis (T-RFLP) technique was developed for the simple and rapid detection and diagnosis of phytoplasmas in plants. The selected primers amplified part of the 23S rRNA gene to provide improved resolution between the taxonomic groups compared to conventional restriction enzyme analysis of the 16S rRNA. Using the restriction enzymes Bsh12361 and MseI on the PCR products, and fragment analysis in the range 68–640 bp, the technique was tested on 37 isolates from 10 of the 16Sr groups. Distinct and unambiguous T-RFLP profiles were produced for nine of the 10 taxonomic groups, such that almost all isolates within a group shared the same profile and could be distinguished from isolates in other groups. The technique also identified the presence of mixtures of phytoplasmas from different groups in samples. Furthermore, the primers were devised to amplify a terminal restriction fragment (TRF) product of a specific defined size (461 bp) from the host plant chloroplast DNA, so that there was a built-in internal control in the procedure to show that the absence of a phytoplasma peak in a sample was the result of no detectable phytoplasma being present, not the result of PCR inhibition. This method offers the possibility of simultaneously detecting and providing a taxonomic grouping for phytoplasmas in test samples using a single PCR reaction.