An interdisciplinary group of scientists has obtained the first detailed information about the structure of the most destructive group of plant viruses known: flexible filamentous viruses.
The cost of worldwide crop losses due to plant diseases is estimated at $60 billion annually. Although there are no good estimates of the cost of plant viruses alone, the viruses are generally considered to be the second greatest contributor to those losses (after fungi). The 300-plus species of flexible filamentous viruses are responsible for more than half of all virus damage.
The findings are published in the October 1 issue of the Journal of Virology and could lead to new ways to protect crop plants from these viruses. The structural information that the researchers have obtained may also benefit researchers interested in using viruses as agents of biotechnology to coax plants to produce other useful products, such as pharmaceuticals.
"These are very important plant viruses, and we knew almost nothing about their detailed structure before these studies," says Gerald Stubbs, the professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University who directed the study. "Their flexibility made them very difficult to analyze."
The project took more than five years to complete and required the combined skills of scientists from Vanderbilt, the Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory, Boston University, Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Kentucky using a combination of complementary imaging techniques. The result of this effort was determination of the low-resolution structures of two species of flexible filamentous viruses: soybean mosaic virus and potato virus X.
Amy Kendall, Michele McDonald, Wen Bian, Timothy Bowles, Sarah Baumgarten, Jian Shi and Phoebe Stewart from Vanderbilt; Esther Bullitt from Boston University School of Medicine; David Gore and Thomas Irving
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