Potato mop-top virus (PMTV) was best detected in field soils by air-drying them for more than a week before remoistening and growing seedlings of Nicotiana tabacum or N. debneyi for a 6–10 week period. Infection of N. tabacum was assessed by inoculating sap from roots and shoots to Chenopodium amaranticolor. Similar inoculations from N. debneyi were far less convenient for detecting PMTV than recording leaf symptoms, but slightly more efficient.
Air-dry soil retained PMTV infectivity for 9 months, when passed through a 50 μ sieve or when diluted with 103 but not 104 parts of steamed soil. Tobacco seedlings were not infected when their roots were steeped in PMTV-containing tobacco sap. Infective soils contained Spongospora subterranea, spore balls of which resisted air-drying for more than a year and passed a 50 μ sieve. Roots of susceptible seedlings were infected with PMTV when exposed to spore balls of S. subterranea taken from powdery scabs on PMTV-infected potato tubers, or to suspensions obtained by steeping, in nutrient solution, roots infected with virus-carrying cultures of S. subterranea. Plants in several families were hosts of S. subterranea, but probabilities of infection when exposed to spore balls differed greatly between families and only species of Solanaceae were good hosts. The ten species infected with PMTV when grown in infective soil or when exposed to spore balls of S. subterranea taken from PMTV-infected potato tubers are all members of this family. PMTV seems to be carried internally in S. subterranea spore balls and survived in them for at least a year.
PMTV was transmitted by S. subterranea to Arran Pilot potato, causing yellow blotches in some leaves and spraing in many tubers. However, when newly infected with PMTV in the field, not all Arran Pilot tubers developed spraing. Also, although many spraing-affected or symptomless but PMTV-infected tubers carried PMTV-containing spore balls of S. subterranea, powdery scabs were rarely found near the centres of the rings of primary spraing. PMTV became established in virus-free soil when PMTV-infected tubers carrying S. subterranea were planted as ‘seed’ but not when virus-free tubers bearing powdery scabs were used. 5. subterranea seems the main, and possibly the only, vector of PMTV in the soils examined. S. subterranea did not transmit potato aucuba mosaic virus from potato to N. debneyi or Capsicum annuum.