Fighting Plant Viruses with Biomarkers

By Susan Littlefield

When you have a pest or disease outbreak in your garden, it may feel like the insects or microorganisms have the upper hand. But scientists are working hard to fight back in ways that are economical and environmentally sound.

A team of researchers from the USDA and Cornell University is studying aphids and their role in transmitting virus diseases to plants. Some species of aphids are efficient virus vectors; others are not. Specifically the scientists are looking to see if the aphids that do transmit disease can be distinguished through protein biomarkers from those that don't.

Controlling the spread of viruses is important because there is no cure for plants once they are infected. The best controls involve either breeding resistant plants or preventing insect vectors like aphids from feeding on plants and infecting them in the process.

The goal of the research is to develop a simple test kit that farmers can use out in the field to determine if the aphids infesting a crop carry particular biomarker proteins indicating they are capable of virus transmission. This will allow for more targeted pesticide use, aimed only at those species that transmit disease, saving the farmer money and reducing the amount of pesticides put out into the environment.

To read more about this research, go to: Cornell Chronicle.

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