20 June 2001
Breakthrough cure for crop viruses

By FWi staff

AUSTRALIAN scientists have made a breakthrough in gene technology that could immunise crops against common viruses.

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization have developed genetically modified potatoes resistant to potato leaf roll virus (PLV), reports CNN.

Crops resistant to barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) and other common viral diseases could be just around the corner.

The CSIRO technology involves inserting a small sequence of a viral genetic material called RNA into a plants DNA.

Normally the plant would interact with the viral RNA, replicating it and allowing the virus to destroy or damage the plant.

But this RNA has been modified by the CSIRO so that the plant instantly recognises it as foreign and triggers its natural defences against the virus.

This works in much the same way as vaccines work in humans.

When the real virus invades the plant, it is countered straight away because the plants system has been primed to fight it.

One of the projects leaders Dr Peter Waterhouse told CNN that the technology could be worth billions worldwide.

Not only could it increase food production, but it could also reduce the amount of pesticides used to kill aphids and other vectors of harmful crop viruses.

Such viruses had, until now, been considered “unbeatable”, he said.

PLV causes devastating yield loss in potato crops – infection in a seed crop will lose its certification.

BYDV is the most important virus in cereals. The vast majority of cereal crops in the UK is treated with pesticide to prevent infection.

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