Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Characterization of the microbial community structure in Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus-infected citrus plants treated with antibiotics in the field

Muqing Zhang123, Charles A Powell1, Ying Guo1, Lesley Benyon2 and Yongping Duan2*

Author Affiliations

1 Indian River Research and Education Center, IFAS-UF, Fort Pierce, FL 34945, USA

2 USDA-ARS, US Horticultural Lab, Fort Pierce, FL 34945, USA

3 State Key Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Subtropical Agro-bioresources, Guangxi University, Guangxi 530004, China

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:112  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-112

Published: 23 May 2013



Huanglongbing (HLB) is a worldwide devastating disease of citrus. There are no effective control measures for this newly emerging but century-old disease. Previously, we reported a combination of Penicillin G and Streptomycin was effective in eliminating or suppressing the associated bacterium, ‘Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’ (Las).


Here we report the bacterial composition and community structure in HLB-affected citrus plants during a growing season and while being treated with antibiotic combinations PS (Penicillin G and Streptomycin) and KO (Kasugamycin and Oxytetracycline) using the Phylochip™ G3 array. Both antibiotic treatments resulted in significantly lower Las bacterial titers (Pr<0.05) and hybridization scores. Of the 50,000+ available operational taxonomic units (OTUs) on PhyloChip™ G3, 7,028 known OTUs were present in citrus leaf midribs. These OTUs were from 58 phyla, of which five contained 100 or more OTUs, Proteobacteria (44.1%), Firmicutes (23.5%), Actinobacteria (12.4%), Bacteroidetes (6.6%) and Cyanobacteria (3.2%). In the antibiotic treated samples, the number of OTUs decreased to a total of 5,599. The over-all bacterial diversity decreased with the antibiotic treatments, as did the abundance of 11 OTUs within Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes and Planctomycetes. Within the Proteobacteria, ten OTUs representing the class γ-proteobacteria increased in abundance after four months of treatment, when the Las bacterium was at its lowest level in the HLB-affected citrus field plants.


Our data revealed that Proteobacteria was constantly the dominant bacterial phylum recovered from citrus leaf midribs, with the α-proteobacterial and the γ-proteobacterial classes vying for prevalence. In addition, the level of bacterial diversity found in the leaf midribs of field citrus was greater than previously described. Bacterial cells in close proximity may be able to modify their microenvironment, making the composition of the microbial community an important factor in the ability of Las to cause HLB progression. A low Las level was seen as an annual fluctuation, part of the bacterial population dynamics, and as a response to the antibiotic treatments.