Possible Crop-Threatening New Plant Virus Found in North America

The switchgrass exhibited mosaic symptoms--splotchy, discolored leaves--characteristic of a viral infection, yet tested negative for known infections. Deep sequencing, a new technology, revealed the plants were infected with a new virus in the genus mastrevirus, the first of its kind found in North America. University of Illinois scientists reported in in the May 2015 issue of the Archives of Virology evidence of the new mastrevirus, tentatively named switchgrass mosaic-associated virus 1 (SgMaV-1). The article is titled “Detection and Characterization of the First North American Mastrevirus in Switchgrass." Other members of the mastrevirus genus, a group of DNA viruses, are known to be responsible for decimating yields in staple food crops (including corn, wheat, and sugarcane) throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. It has never before been reported in North America. Many mastreviruses are transmitted from plant to plant by leafhoppers. The rate of infection rises with leafhopper populations, which can cause widespread epidemics and complete yield loss in some crops. Researchers are not sure what vector transmits SgMaV-1 and the impacts of the virus on switchgrass biomass yield, nor do they know what other crops the new virus affects. "My fear is that this virus is in corn and wheat, and we are not even aware of it," said first author Dr. Bright Agindotan, a former postdoctoral researcher at the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), housed within the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) at the Universtity of Illionois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Agindotan is now a Research Assistant Professor at Montana State University "It's like when you are sick and go to the hospital, but the doctors say nothing is wrong with you because they only test for what they know."
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