Viruses Lure Insects to Infected Plants

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Feb. 2 (UPI) — U.S. entomologists say they’ve discovered a common plant virus lures aphids to infected plants and then uses the aphids as transportation to other plants.

The Pennsylvania State University researchers said they determined the viruses make the infected plants more attractive, but when the insects taste the plant they quickly leave for tastier, healthier ones. That allows the virus to rapidly transmit the disease.

“The virus improves the cues that insects use to identify food by elevating some aspect of a trait that is already in the plant,” said Assistant Professor Mark Mescher. “In this case they appear to elevate the odor cue, without changing it.”

Mescher said the finding has implications beyond agriculture. If pathogens can alter hosts to make transmission more efficient, they might also be doing it in such insect-transmitted human diseases as malaria or dengue fever.

The research that included graduate student Kerry Mauck is reported in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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