Predominance of Single Prophage Carrying a CRISPR/cas System in "Candidatus Liberibacter Asiaticus" Strains in Southern China

PLoS One. 2016 Jan 7;11(1):e0146422. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0146422. eCollection 2016.


"Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus" (CLas) is an uncultureable α-proteobacterium associated with citrus Huanglongbing (HLB, yellow shoot disease), a highly destructive disease affecting citrus production worldwide. HLB was observed in Guangdong Province of China over a hundred years ago and remains endemic there. Little is known about CLas biology due to its uncultureable nature. This study began with the genome sequence analysis of CLas Strain A4 from Guangdong in the prophage region. Within the two currently known prophage types, Type 1 (SC1-like) and Type 2 (SC2-like), A4 genome contained only a Type 2 prophage, CGdP2, namely. An analysis on CLas strains collected in Guangdong showed that Type 2 prophage dominated the bacterial population (82.6%, 71/86). An extended survey covering five provinces in southern China also revealed the predominance of single prophage (Type 1 or Type 2) in the CLas population (90.4%, 169/187). CLas strains with two and no prophage types accounted for 7.2% and 2.8%, respectively. In silico analyses on CGdP2 identified a CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/cas (CRISPR-associated protein genes) system, consisting of four 22 bp repeats, three 23 bp spacers and 9 predicted cas. Similar CRISPR/cas systems were detected in all 10 published CLas prophages as well as 13 CLas field strains in southern China. Both Type 1 and Type 2 prophages shared almost identical sequences in spacer 1 and 3 but not spacer 2. Considering that the function of a CRISPR/cas system was to destroy invading DNA, it was hypothesized that a pre-established CLas prophage could use its CRISPR/cas system guided by spacer 1 and/or 3 to defeat the invasion of the other phage/prophage. This hypothesis explained the predominance of single prophage type in the CLas population in southern China. This is the first report of CRISPR/cas system in the "Ca. Liberibacter" genera.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution
  • CRISPR-Cas Systems*
  • China
  • Citrus / microbiology*
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Intergenic / genetics
  • Genome, Viral*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Phylogeography
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology
  • Prophages / classification
  • Prophages / genetics*
  • Rhizobiaceae / pathogenicity
  • Rhizobiaceae / physiology
  • Rhizobiaceae / virology*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Intergenic

Grant support

This work was supported by California Citrus Research Board and Chinese Modern Agricultural Technology Systems (CARS-27) and the Special Fund for Agro-Scientific Research in the Public Interest, China (2010003067). We thank Christopher Wallis and Craig Ledbetter for critical editing of this manuscript.