DETERMINANTS OF PLANT VIRUS SEED TRANSMISSION AND SPECIATION
- Cáceres González, Sandra - Technician
- Cobos Piñuela, Alberto - PhD Student
- Dunger, Ricardo German - Postdoctoral María Zambrano
- Gil Valle, Miriam - Technician
- Gutiérrez Sánchez, Álvaro - PhD Student
- Martín Rivilla, Helena - Postdoctoral Margarita Salas
- Ojeda Martínez, Dairon Antonio - Postdoctoral Fellow
The FAO estimates that, in the next 35 years, global agricultural production will need to increase by 60% to achieve acceptable levels of food safety for a human population that would reach nine billion. One of the most serious challenges to achieve this goal is to reduce the impact of emerging infectious diseases in crop production. Emerging diseases in plants are mainly caused by RNA viruses, which affect negatively sustainable food production by reducing crop quality and yield. The main focus of our research is to understand the processes of plant virus emergence, with the ultimate goal of contributing to control emerging diseases.
A key feature of RNA viruses, which is often associated with disease emergence, is their high potential to generate genetic diversity. This characteristic provides RNA viruses with a high capacity for adaptation to new environments, including new hosts. Adaptation to new host genotypes or species may lead to diversification of the virus population, which may result in the emergence of new diseases caused by the appearance of new viral lineages or species: that is, by ‘speciation’ events. Although virus speciation is central to understand disease emergence, its determinants are still poorly understood. One of the major research goals of our group is characterizing the ecological and genetic factors that drive speciation processes of RNA virus populations. We are especially interested in understanding how ecosystem biodiversity influences virus speciation and emergence. To address this subject, we analyze how changes in biodiversity and other ecological traits of evergreen oak forests and riparian forests of the Iberian Peninsula affect the population genetic diversity and prevalence of plant RNA viruses of the genus Potyvirus, which makes 25% of all known plant viruses. These two ecosystems are frequently adjacent to crop lands, and are therefore a source of economically important pathogens such as potyviruses. We complement our epidemiological and molecular studies with bioinformatics approaches aimed at building mathematical models that predict the conditions favoring virus speciation according to ecosystem ecological conditions.
Schematic representation of the direct and indirect routes of virus seed invasion.
Another characteristic of plant viruses that facilitates disease emergence is their great potential to spread rapidly. About 25% of all known plant viruses are vertically transmitted from parent to offspring through the seeds, and this is surely an underestimate as more viruses are reported to be seed transmitted every year. Given that approximately 90% of the food crops grown worldwide are propagated from seeds, seed transmitted viruses are an important threat for crop production. Seed infection provides the virus with a mean to persist for long periods of time when hosts or vectors are not available, allows for long distance dissemination of the virus via infected seeds, and represents an important source of primary inoculum for many viruses, which are disseminated afterwards via insect vectors. Current strategies to reduce the impact of seed transmitted viruses mostly involve routine seed health testing for seed certification and plant quarantine. However, the efficacy of these methods is limited. The second major research focus of our group is the characterization of the plant and virus genes that control seed transmission. To attain this goal, we use the model system formed by the plant Arabidopsis thaliana and two viruses that infect natural populations of this host and are seed-transmitted: Cucumber mosaic virus and Turnip mosaic virus. Our aim is using this knowledge with biotechnological purposes to obtain plant varieties immune to seed transmission. Thus, we work with seed and biotechnology companies to transfer our findings into economically important crops.
Phylogenetic differentiation of Rabies virus isolates according to the host of origin
Our research interests are not only limited to plant viruses. We also collaborate with different national and international groups in the study of clinical and ecological determinants of the evolution and emergence of animal and human RNA viruses through comparative genomics approaches. For instance, we have contributed to understand the clinical determinants of between-host evolution in HIV infected children, and we have identified the ecological determinants of Rabies virus population genetic diversity.
- Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad. BIO2016-79165-R
- Marie Curie Actions. Carreer Integration Grant. PCIG11-GA-2012-322100
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