Visualization of 'Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus' Cells in the Vascular Bundle of Citrus Seed Coats with Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization and Transmission Electron Microscopy
'Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus' is the bacterium implicated as a causal agent of the economically damaging disease of citrus called huanglongbing (HLB). Vertical transmission of the organism through seed to the seedling has not been demonstrated. Previous studies using real-time polymerase chain reaction assays indicated abundant bacterial 16S rRNA sequences in seed coats of citrus seed but the presence of intact bacterial cells was not demonstrated. We used microscopy to verify that intact bacterial cells were present in citrus seed coats. Bacterial cells with the morphology and physical dimensions appropriate for 'Ca. L. asiaticus' were seen in phloem sieve elements in the vascular bundle of grapefruit seed coats using transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analyses utilizing probes complementary to the 'Ca. L. asiaticus' 16S rRNA gene revealed bacterial cells in the vascular tissue of intact seed coats of grapefruit and pummelo and in fragmented vascular bundles excised from grapefruit seed coats. The physical measurements and the morphology of individual bacterial cells were consistent with those ascribed in the literature to 'Ca. L. asiaticus'. No bacterial cells were observed in preparations of seed from fruit from noninfected trees. A small library of clones amplified from seed coats from a noninfected tree using degenerate primers targeting prokaryote 16S rRNA gene sequences contained no 'Ca. L. asiaticus' sequences, whereas 95% of the sequences in a similar library from DNA from seed coats from an infected tree were identified as 'Ca. L. asiaticus', providing molecular genetic corroboration that the bacterial cells observed by TEM and FISH in seed coats from infected trees were 'Ca. L. asiaticus'.