Sugarcane white leaf disease is caused by plant pathogenic phytoplasmas that are transmitted to the plant by the leafhopper Matsumuratettix hiroglyphicus (Matsumura). To determine whether there are other insect vectors that transmit this disease pathogen, leafhopper species in sugarcane, Saccharum officinarum L., fields in northeastern Thailand were monitored by using light traps. Sixty-nine leafhopper species from family Cicadellidae were found. Using nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with specific primers, a 210-bp amplified DNA fragment corresponding to phytoplasma associated with sugarcane white leaf disease was detected from 12 species of leafhoppers [Balclutha rubrostriata (Melichar), Balclutha sp., Bhatia olivacea (Melichar), Exitianus indicus Distant, Macrosteles striifrons Anufriew, Matsumuratettix hiroglyphicus (Matsumura), Recilia distincta (Motschulsky), Recilia dorsalis (Motschulsky), Recilia sp., Thaia oryzivora Ghauri, Yamatotettix flavovittatus Matsumura, and Xestocephalus sp.]. The percentage of individual infection with phytoplasma varied from 5% in B. olivacea to 35% in Xestocephalus sp. The most abundant leafhopper species, i.e., E. indicus, Y. flavovittatus, and M. hiroglyphicus were used in transmission tests to determine their vector status for the sugarcane white leaf phytoplasma transmission. Infected insects were reared on healthy plants and specific PCR followed by sequencing of the amplicons was used to determine whether the phytoplasma was transmitted to the plants. The results showed that both Y. flavovittatus and M. hiroglyphicus, but not E. indicus, can transmit sugarcane white leaf phytoplasma to healthy sugarcane plants. The transmission efficiency of M. hiroglyphicus (55%) was higher than that of Y. flavovittatus (45%). We conclude that Y. flavovittatus is a newly discovered vector for sugarcane white leaf disease, in addition to M. hiroglyphicus. These two species peak at different times of the year and therefore complement each other in the transmission of the phytoplasma. Because there are no known alternative host plants for the sugarcane white leaf, management of the disease will necessarily require the control of both Y. flavovittatus and M. hiroglyphicus.
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