Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Plant viruses from past provide ecological clues

10.10.2007
Taking the medical history of a grassland may seem a bit esoteric – after all, how sick can grass be? However, scientists have discovered plant viruses from as early as 1917 containing information crucial not only for plant scientists, but for those in ecology, human health and bioterrorism.

Carolyn Malmstrom, assistant professor of plant biology at Michigan State University, isolated historical viral RNA sequences in native and invasive grasses revealing a complex picture of struggles of species, interactions of insects and implications for the ways viruses behave today. The findings are reported in the Oct. 16th edition of the Journal of Ecology.

“This work points out that the virus world does have an active, long-term role in nature, not just in agriculture,” Malmstrom said. “We very much need to understand how viruses can move and influence our crops. If we care about our crops, we need to care about what’s happening in nature.”

When living in northern California, Malmstrom noticed that a walk through grasslands dominated by nonnative annual plants meant getting covered in aphids, an infestation that wasn’t seen in typically perennial grasses indigenous to the area.

It made her wonder what the differences were – and what that meant to the overall health of those ecosystems.

Those questions ultimately led to viruses, which can be spread among plants by aphids the way mosquitoes spread disease among humans. Malmstrom explained little is known about viruses in nature – that’s usually a discussion reserved for agricultural crops. But recent advances in molecular techniques have unveiled natural systems teeming with viruses – and thus raising the question of what the impact of those viruses is.

“We’ve always assumed viruses largely are manifested in agricultural systems, because the system is unbalanced due to human interaction,” Malmstrom said. “But now we are understanding viruses are more common in nature than people realize – and that there’s a whole class of biological interactions going on out there that we know hardly anything about.”

This paper deals with historical virus ecology – understanding how viruses have affected grasslands years ago. The team examined dried California grasses in plant collections from the early 1900s. Unprotected, RNA typically degenerates quickly, but Malmstrom’s group discovered that the old RNA in these descendents of common grain viruses had been protected by the viruses’ exterior proteins – and could still be recovered almost a century later.

“These are the oldest plant viruses anyone has gotten out of plant material in North America,” Malmstrom said.

The work suggests that these barley and cereal yellow dwarf viruses may have helped invasive grasses take over California in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The history, Malmstrom said, is important in understanding how viruses spread and change. People have been bringing in new species of plants to the New World since Columbus arrived in the 15th century, and these invasions rock the ecological world. In California, native perennial grasses gave way to new annual grasses, which make aphid populations larger. Because aphids can carry viruses over long distances, increases in their numbers can alter disease dynamics over a large area. In California more native grasses likely got sick after Europeans arrived, just as Native Americans did.

“We are able to take modern and historical viruses and put them in a family tree so we can start investigating how far back different virus groups split from each other,” Malmstrom said. “Our work suggests that some of the big branching of viruses happened during early global exploration by humans. We want to understand how human influence shapes how viruses evolve.”

Understanding what impact humans have on natural systems is especially important as the human world has much of natural ecology reined in. Malmstrom described human influence in terms of a net – one in which natural systems are increasingly hemmed in by a grid of roads, urban areas and fences.

“At night, the view of North America from outer space reveals a grid of lights that shows how we have built a net over the landscape – one that doesn’t let large controlling agents – be they stampedes of buffalos or fires – move across the landscape like they used to; they get caught in our net,” she said. “But those little aphids can still move through those nets and the viruses with them. The importance of viruses and small pathogens is going to be increasingly dominant as other forces have been controlled.”

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and also supported by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.

Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

Carolyn Malmstrom | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.msu.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>