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Crop-infecting virus forces aphids to spread disease
Date:12/5/2013

Viruses alter plant biochemistry in order to manipulate visiting aphids into spreading infection.

University of Cambridge researchers have shown that viruses use aphids as pawns, discouraging the insects from permanently settling on already-infected crops and using this forced migration to spread infection to healthy vegetation.

Aphids are sap-sucking insects that attack many different types of plants and are major transmitters of crop-infecting viruses. By altering plant biochemistry, crop-infecting viruses cause vegetation to smell and taste unpleasant to visiting aphids. This repels the insects, causing them to move swiftly away to healthier plants, unwittingly transporting and spreading the virus.

This BBSRC-funded research could have significant impact on African agriculture. Working with various agencies, Dr John Carr and colleagues aim to help resource-poor farmers by deploying plants to act as aphid-decoys, drawing the insects away from crucial crops and halting the spread of infection through these farmers' livelihoods.

About this research, Dr Carr said: "The work started almost accidentally when about five years ago a student and I noticed that aphids became sick or died when confined on a virus-infected plant. It's an illustration of how research driven by curiosity can lead to findings that could have a positive impact in the real world - in this case in combating crop-damaging insects and the viruses they transmit."

The Cambridge team collaborated with researchers at Imperial College, London, using Arabidopsis plants as hosts and monitoring the effect that the crop-infecting cucumber mosaic virus had. It was observed that the virus launched a concerted attack on the plant's immune system whilst concurrently altering its biochemistry; in this way, the weakened Arabidopsis plant was unable to fight off either its attacker or visiting aphids. The aphids, instantly repelled by the smell and taste of the
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Contact: Sian Jones
Sian.jones@admin.cam.ac.uk
01-223-748-174
University of Cambridge
Source:Eurekalert

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