Experiments were conducted to determine whether the beet leafhopper, Circulifer tenellus (Baker) (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae), transmits the purple top phytoplasma to potato, Solanum tuberosum L.; beets, Beta vulgaris L.; and selected weed hosts. The beet leafhopper-transmitted virescence agent (BLTVA) phytoplasma was identified as the causal agent of the potato purple top disease outbreaks that recently occurred in the Columbia Basin of Washington and Oregon. The phytoplasma previously was found to be associated almost exclusively with the beet leafhopper, suggesting that this insect is the probable vector of BLTVA in this important potato-growing region. Eight potato cultivars, including ‘Russet Burbank’, ‘Ranger Russet’, ‘Shepody’, ‘Umatilla Russet’, ‘Atlantic’, ‘FL-1879’, ‘FL-1867’, and ‘FL-1833’, were exposed for a week to BLTVA-infected beet leafhoppers. After exposure, the plants were maintained outdoors in large cages and then tested for BLTVA by using polymerase chain reaction after 6 to 7 wk. The leafhoppers transmitted BLTVA to seven of the eight exposed potato cultivars. Sixty-four percent of the exposed plants tested positive for the phytoplasma. In addition, 81% of the BLTVA-infected potato plants developed distinct potato purple top disease symptoms. Beet leafhoppers also transmitted BLTVA to beets and several weeds, including groundsel, Senecio vulgaris L.; shepherd’s purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik); kochia, Kochia scoparia (L.) Schrad; and Russian thistle, Salsola kali L. This is the first report of transmission of BLTVA to potatoes, beets, and the above-mentioned four weed species. Results of the current study prove that the beet leafhopper is a vector of the potato purple top disease.
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Vol. 99 • No. 2