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Light Could Be Key To protecting Crops From Costly Virus

Light Could Be Key To protecting Crops From Costly Virus

In a recent article in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, Hanu Pappu, his WSU colleague Michael Neff, and their respective post-doctoral researchers Ying Zhai and Hao Peng report that tomato spotted wilt virus, part of a group called tospoviruses, may be able to sense light and respond to plant growth hormones.

“I was very surprised,” said Pappu, Samuel H. Smith Distinguished Professor and Chuey Endowed Chair in WSU’s Department of Plant Pathology.

“We had no idea any plant virus had this adaptation, even though it’s been long accepted that viruses co-evolved with their hosts.

And plants obviously respond to light, so this virus may have acquired the genetic sequences for light response from its hosts.”

Pappu has worked for nearly two decades to understand and manage diseases caused by tospoviruses.

They are efficient killers of many food crops including peanut, pepper, potato, onion, soybean and many more vegetable and legume crops.

These viruses contain only five genes, but they’re known for snatching bits of genetic code from their plant hosts.

In addition to the five genes, the virus contains other genetic material that doesn’t have a known function or use.

After in-depth research, the team found the virus had some genetic signatures present in many plants and bacteria which were shown to respond to light and hormones. Zhai and Peng carried out a series of experiments to verify the activity of this viral sequence could be turned on or off by light or hormones.

Now Pappu and his colleagues will look to find what role this genetic element plays in the virus’ life cycle.

If they can find that, then it may be possible to disrupt that cycle and reduce the virus’ reproduction and spread using light or growth hormones, he said. 

Hanu Pappu, Sam Smith Distinguished Professor and Chuey Endowed Chair in WSU’s Department of Plant Pathology

Light Could Be Key To protecting Crops From Costly Virus by Scott Weybright, Washington State University News, International Society for Plant Pathology, Issue 49 (9) September 2019 (PDF)

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