Nav: Home

Avoiding virus dangers in 'domesticating' wild plants for biofuel use

February 15, 2013

In our ongoing quest for alternative energy sources, researchers are looking more to plants that grow in the wild for use in biofuels, plants such as switchgrass.

However, attempts to "domesticate" wild-growing plants have a downside, as it could make the plants more susceptible to any number of plant viruses.

In a presentation at this year's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Michigan State University plant biologist Carolyn Malmstrom said that when we start combining the qualities of different types of plants into one, there can be unanticipated results.

"Most wild plants are perennials, while most of our agriculture crops are annuals," Malmstrom said. "Sometimes when you mix the properties of the two, unexpected things can happen."

For example, annual domestic plants are made to grow quickly. "In agriculture we select more for growth," she said. "There is a reduced need for the plants to defend themselves because we have taken care of that."

If pest control measures aren't taken, these annual plants can serve as "amplifiers," producing lots of viruses and insects to move the viruses around.

In contrast, perennial plants in nature grow slower, but are usually better equipped to fight off invading viruses. When wild-growing perennials do get infected they can serve as reservoirs for viruses, Malmstrom said, "a place where viruses can hang out a long time."

In the domestication of wild plants for bioenergy, long-lived plants are being selected for fast growth like annuals. "Now you have a plant that could be a long-term reservoir, but it also happens to be faster growing and can serve as an amplifier for viruses. This all-in-one combination could increase virus pressure in crop areas unless mitigated."

Malmstrom said that plant virus ecology and the study of viral interactions between wild-growing plants and agricultural crops is an expanding field. In the last 15 years, disease ecology has really come to the fore as a basic science.

Most of what is known about plant viruses comes from studies of crops. To understand the complete ecology of viruses, researchers are now studying these tiny organisms in nature, too. "The mysteries of how plant viruses can play a role in ecosystem properties and processes in natural ecosystems are emerging more slowly," Malmstrom said.

Malmstrom said it's important to catch-up in our understanding of viral ecology, as there are any number of societal issues that need to be addressed in this area.

"Society wants us to be able to answer questions such as whether viruses can be used in agricultural terrorism, how to recognize a novel virus, and what happens if a virus is genetically modified and then let loose?"
-end-
For more details about AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society, visit www.aaas.org.

Michigan State University

Related Virus Articles:

New insights into how the Zika virus causes microcephaly
Scientists have uncovered why Zika virus may specifically target neural stem cells in the developing brain, potentially leading to microcephaly.
New Zika virus inhibitor identified
Compound could serve as basis for drugs to prevent neurological complications of Zika.
Zeroing in on the Zika virus
Hobman has been announced as one of three Canadian scientists who have received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for their teams to study the Zika virus.
What does it take for an AIDS virus to infect a person?
Researchers examined the characteristics of HIV-1 strains that were successful in traversing the genital mucosa that forms a boundary to entry by viruses and bacteria.
Cough virus kills liver cancer cells and hepatitis virus
A virus that causes childhood coughs and colds could help in the fight against primary liver cancer, according to a study.
Characterizing the Zika virus genome
The sudden emergence of the Zika virus epidemic in Latin America in 2015-16 has caught the scientific world unawares.
Discovery of new Hepatitis C virus mechanism
Researchers at Osaka University, Japan uncovered the mechanisms that suppress the propagation of the hepatitis C virus with the potential of improving pathological liver conditions.
What does Zika virus mean for the children of the Americas?
A special communication article published online by JAMA Pediatrics explores whether new paradigms in child health may emerge because of Zika virus.
Predicting the spread of the Zika virus
A new tool by Japan-based researchers predicts the risk of Zika virus importation and local transmission for 189 countries.
An old new weapon against emerging Chikungunya virus
Researchers utilize existing drugs to interfere with host factors required for replication of Chikungunya virus.

Related Virus Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...