Open Access Research article

Comparison of the complete genome sequence of two closely related isolates of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma australiense’ reveals genome plasticity

Mark T Andersen1*, Lia W Liefting23, Ilkka Havukkala24 and Ross E Beever5

Author Affiliations

1 The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited, Private Bag 92169, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

2 AgriGenesis Biosciences Ltd, P.O. Box 50, Auckland, New Zealand

3 Current address: Plant Health and Environment Laboratory, Ministry for Primary Industries, P.O. Box 2095, Auckland 1140, New Zealand

4 Current address: Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand, 205 Victoria Street, Wellington, New Zealand

5 Landcare Research, Private Bag 92170, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:529  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-529

Published: 2 August 2013



Candidatus Phytoplasma australiense’ is associated with at least nine diseases in Australia and New Zealand. The impact of this phytoplasma is considerable, both economically and environmentally. The genome of a NZ isolate was sequenced in an effort to understand its pathogenicity and ecology. Comparison with a closely related Australian isolate enabled us to examine mechanisms of genomic rearrangement.


The complete genome sequence of a strawberry lethal yellows (SLY) isolate of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma australiense’ was determined. It is a circular genome of 959,779 base pairs with 1126 predicted open reading frames. Despite being 80 kbp larger than another ‘Ca. Phytoplasma australiense’ isolate PAa, the variation between housekeeping genes was generally less than 1% at a nucleotide level. The difference in size between the two isolates was largely due to the number and size of potential mobile units (PMUs), which contributed to some changes in gene order. Comparison of the genomes of the two isolates revealed that the highly conserved 5′ UTR of a putative DNA-directed RNA polymerase seems to be associated with insertion and rearrangement events. Two types of PMUs have been identified on the basis of the order of three to four conserved genes, with both PMUs appearing to have been present in the last common ancestor of ‘Ca. Phytoplasma asteris’ and ‘Ca. Phytoplasma australiense’. Comparison with other phytoplasma genomes showed that modification methylases were, in general, species-specific. A putative methylase (xorIIM) found in ‘Ca. Phytoplasma australiense’ appeared to have no analogue in any other firmicute, and we believe has been introduced by way of lateral gene transfer. A putative retrostransposon (ltrA) analogous to that found in OY-M was present in both isolates, although all examples in PAa appear to be fragments. Comparative analysis identified highly conserved 5′ and 3′ UTR regions of ltrA, which may indicate how the gene is excised and inserted.


Comparison of two assembled ‘Ca. Phytoplasma australiense’ genomes has shown they possess a high level of plasticity. This comparative analysis has yielded clues as to how rearrangements occur, and the identification of sets of genes that appear to be associated with these events.

Phytoplasma; Genome sequence; Synteny; Rearrangement; Plasticity; Potential mobile unit (PMU)