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Plant Viruses

by Kristina Kaye Maglabe

Viruses do not only affect humans and animals, they also attack plants. Over the years, farmers only blamed the devastation of crops due to pests, insects and animals. Up until the 20th century, plant viruses were not even known about. Viral studies are very important as most of the unexplained desolation among living organisms is caused by viruses.

Viruses are intracellular parasites. This means they cannot reproduce on their own. They need a host to reproduce. They gather nutrients and part from their hosts. They are considered as an intracellular parasite.

Tiny is an understatement when it comes to classifying virus size. Being able to see these organisms are only possible through an electron microscope. The main structure of viruses consists of protein and genome.  At least 300 – 500 mm is the common length for a virus. Most of the plant viruses are quite rod shaped in size. They can as thin as 15 – 20 inches in diameter. Other plant viruses are classified as isometric particles. Proteins have a very vital role in a virus structure. It acts as a coat that acts as a layer. This can spread over from 1-5 layers over the virus.

Since plants are immobile, vectors are the cause why these viruses pass from one plant to another. The common culprits are insects and birds. Let us take pollination as an example. A bee will pollinate a plant. The virus can attach itself to the bee. When the bee goes after another plant to pollinate, the virus can transfer to the new plant, infecting it. Another way to infect other plants with viruses is when plants touch each other. Seeds and pollen can also contain viruses. If an original plant has a virus, the seed or pollen from it will surely have inherited it as well.

One of the most devastating plant viruses is the Tobacco mosaic virus. It costs plantations at least US$60 billion every year. The cauliflower mosaic virus is another stream of virus that is famously used in molecular biology particularly in the plant department. The potato RX1 gene presents struggle against the potato virus x.

Once a plant is damaged by a virus, a common symptom is necrosis. Hypoplasia and hyperplasia are another common symptom of viral infection among plants. Hypoplasia inhibits cellular development among the flora. Hyperplasia on the other hand, speeds up cellular growth that it causes inflated and/or indistinct parts of the foliage.

Conquering these viruses can be a huge fight. Sometimes, your daily fertilizer is not cut for the job anymore. Having a good strategy is essential. Crop rotation is advisable. Most people quarantine foliage to avoid the spread of these viruses. Some integrate plants for higher sustainability and resistance.

Viruses have a very negative view in microbiology. There are only handfuls that have great use. Information about them is lesser. Continued vigilance and research on these organisms are encouraged to help farmers as well as common gardeners have great sustainability rate.