Two nucleotide positions in the Citrus exocortis viroid RNA associated with symptom expression in Etrog citron but not in experimental herbaceous hosts
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P>Citrus exocortis viroid (CEVd) is the causal agent of exocortis disease of citrus. CEVd has a wide host range that includes woody and herbaceous species. A new CEVd strain (CEVdCOL), phylogenetically clustering with CEVd variants of Class A inducing severe symptoms in tomato, was identified in Colombia and shown to induce only extremely mild symptoms in Etrog citron indicator plants. Using site-directed mutagenesis, two nucleotide substitutions (314A -> G and 315U -> A) in the lower strand of the P domain of the predicted CEVdCOL secondary structure resulted in a severe artificial CEVdMCOL variant. Conversely, two nucleotide exchanges (314G -> A and 315A -> U) in the same region of the severe variant CEVdE-117 resulted in a symptomless artificial CEVdME-117 variant. Infectivity assays conducted with the natural and mutated variants showed that all induced severe symptoms in Gynura aurantiaca, tomato and chrysanthemum. This is the first report of the identification of pathogenic determinants of CEVd in citrus, and shows that these pathogenicity determinants are host dependent.