Identification of the Begomoviruses Squash Leaf Curl Virus and Watermelon Chlorotic Stunt Virus in Various Plant Samples in North America

Geminiviruses are a group of plant-infecting viruses with single-stranded DNA genomes. Within this family, viruses in the genus Begomovirus are known to have a worldwide distribution causing a range of severe diseases in a multitude of dicotyledonous plant species. Begomoviruses are transmitted by the whitefly Bemisia tabaci, and their ssDNA genomes can be either monopartite or bipartite. As part of a viral survey, various plants including those in the families Alliaceae, Amaranthaceae, Apiaceae, Asteraceae, Brassicaceae, Cactaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Lamiaceae, Lauraceae, Malvaceae, Oleaceae and Solanaceae were sampled and screened for begomoviruses using both a high-throughput sequencing and a begomovirus-specific primer pair approach. Based on the sequences derived using these approaches, the full-length genome of various begomoviruses were amplified from plants using abutting primers. Squash leaf curl virus (SLCV) and watermelon chlorotic stunt virus (WCSV) were identified in Cactaceae (n = 25), Solanaceae (n = 7), Cucurbitaceae (n = 2) and Lamiaceae (n = 1) samples. WCSV is an Old World bipartite begomovirus that has only recently been discovered infecting watermelons in the Americas. Our discovery of WCSV in the USA is the first indication that it has reached this country and indicates that this virus might be widespread throughout North America. Phylogenetic analysis suggests WCSV was introduced to the New World twice. The detection of begomoviruses in cactus plants suggests possible spillover events from agricultural areas into native vegetation. Since WCSV and SLCV have previously been found in mixed infections, pseudo-recombination infection experiments were conducted. We demonstrate that WCSV DNA-B is successfully trans-replicated by SLCV DNA-A despite very low degree of similarity between the replication-associated iterative sequences present in their common region, an essential feature for binding of the replication associated protein. This study highlights the importance of viral surveys for the detection of spillover events into native vegetation, but also suggests the need for more surveillance of WCSV in the USA, as this virus is a serious threat to watermelon cultivation in the Middle East.