Seed World

Researchers Make Major Plant Disease Breakthrough

Claudia Marcela Castillo-González (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kathleen Phillips)

Researchers have discovered how a tiny viral protein enables the infection of a complex plant, and the finding could lead to understanding viral diseases in other plants, animals and humans, according to a team of Texas A&M AgriLife Research biochemists.
Xiuren Zhang’s lab in College Station focused on how plants can defend themselves against viral attacks by experimenting with the effect of mosaic virus on Arabidopsis, a model plant widely used in research.
The mosaic virus was studied by Zhang and his team because it readily infects numerous important crops such as corn, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes as well as cotton and landscape flowers. Once the infection begins – causing yellowing in a mosaic pattern and curling leaves – there is no stopping it. The plant dies after a short, unproductive life. The disease spreads easily through insects that feed on the plants.
“We know that in the human system, the power exists through the immune system to recognize and kill a virus,” Zhang said. “When a virus gets into the host (plant), it hijacks and regulates the host’s machinery to produce more and more virus. The host must find some way to fight back against this virus that is making it sick.”
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