UPTON, NY - Flexible filamentous viruses make up a large fraction of known plant viruses and are responsible for more than half the viral damage to crop plants throughout the world. New details of their structures, which were poorly understood, have been revealed by scientists using a variety of sophisticated imaging techniques at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborating institutions.
These findings, just published in the October 1, 2008, issue of the Journal of Virology, may lead to new ways to protect crop plants from viruses and other forms of damage. The structural information may also benefit scientists interested in using viruses as agents of biotechnology to coax plants to produce other useful products, such as pharmaceuticals.
"These are very important viruses, and we knew almost nothing about their detailed structure before these studies," said Gerald Stubbs, a structural biologist at Vanderbilt University and lead author on the paper. "If you are to come up with any molecular way of combating these plant diseases, you need to know the details of their structures." For example, structural information could help scientists design molecules that interfere with the virus's ability to infect plant cells.
The scientists from Vanderbilt, Brookhaven, Boston University, Illinois Institute of Technology, and the University of Kentucky studied the structures of two plant viruses from unrelated families, the Potyviridae and Flexiviridae, using a combination of complementary imaging techniques x-ray diffraction at DOE's Argonne National Laboratory, cryo-electron microscopy at Vanderbilt, and scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) at Brookhaven.
"Brookhaven Lab is home to one of only a few STEM machines in the world," said co-author Joseph Wall, a biophysicist at Brookhaven who designed and runs the facility.
"These techniques are very complementary," said Stubbs.
|Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh|
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory