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Viruses are very small (submicroscopic) infectious

particles (virions) composed of a protein coat and a
nucleic acid core. They carry genetic information
encoded in their nucleic acid, which typically specifies
two or more proteins.
Translation of the genome (to produce proteins) or
transcription and replication (to produce more nucleic
acid) takes place within the host cell and uses some of
the host's biochemical "machinery". Viruses do not
capture or store free energy and are not functionally
active outside their host. They are therefore parasites
(and usually pathogens) but are not usually regarded as
genuine microorganisms.
—ost viruses are restricted to a particular type of host.
Some infect bacteria, and are known as bacteriophages,
whereas others are known that infect algae, protozoa,
fungi (mycoviruses), invertebrates, vertebrates or vascular
plants. However, some viruses that are transmitted
between vertebrate or plant hosts by feeding insects
(vectors) can replicate within both their host and their
vector. This web site is mostly concerned with those
viruses that infect plants but we also provide some
taxonomic and genome information about viruses of fungi,
protozoa, vertebrates and invertebrates where these are
related to plant viruses. We also provide information
about viroids, which are infectious RNA molecules that
cause diseases in various plants. Their genomes are much
smaller than those of viruses (up to 400 nucleotides of
circular single-stranded RNA) and do not code for any
proteins. We also provide information about viroids, which
are infectious RNA molecules that cause diseases in
various plants. Their genomes are much smaller than
those of viruses (up to 400 nucleotides of circular single-
stranded RNA) and do not code for any proteins.
Why are viruses important?
Viruses also cause many important plant diseases and are
responsible for huge losses in crop production and quality
in all parts of the world. Infected plants may show a range
of symptoms depending on the disease but often there is
leaf yellowing (either of the whole leaf or in a pattern of
stripes or blotches), leaf distortion (e.g. curling) and/or
other growth distortions (e.g. stunting of the whole plant,
abnormalities in flower or fruit formation).
The highest level of virus classification recognises six
major groups, based on the nature of the genome:
 Double-stranded DNA (dsDNA)
 Single-stranded DNA (ssDNA)
 Reverse-transcribing viruses
 Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)
 Negative sense single-stranded RNA (ssRNA-)
 Positive sense single-stranded RNA (ssRNA+)
Amongst plant viruses, the most frequently
encountered shapes are:
2sometric: apparently spherical and (depending on
the species) from about 18nm in diameter
upwards. The example here shows Tobacco necrosis
virus, genus Necrovirus with particles 26 nm in
diameter. tered shapes are:
 jod-shaped: about 20-25 nm in diameter and
from about 100 to 300 nm long. These appear rigid
and often have a clear central canal (depending on
the staining method used). Some viruses have two
or more different lengths of particle and these
contain different genome components. The example
here shows Tobacco mosaic virus, genus
Tobamovirus with particles 300 nm long.
 ilamentous: usually about 12 nm in diameter
and more flexuous than the rod-shaped particles.
They can be up to 1000 nm long, or even longer in
some instances. Some viruses have two or more
different lengths of particle and these contain
different genome components. The example here
shows 6otato virus Y, genus 6otyvirus with particles
740 nm long.
 ueminate: twinned isometric particles about 30 x
18 nm. These particles are diagnostic for viruses in
the family ueminiviridae which are widespread in
many crops especially in tropical regions. The
example here shows Maize streak virus, genus
 áacilliform: c     Ä    

 Some important animal and human viruses can be
spread through aerosols. The viruses have the
"machinery" to enter the animal cells directly by
fusing with the cell membrane (e.g. in the nasal
lining or gut).
 plant cells have a robust cell wall and viruses
cannot penetrate them unaided. —ost plant viruses
are therefore transmitted by a vector organism that
feeds on the plant or (in some diseases) are
introduced through wounds made, for example,
during cultural operations (e.g. pruning). A small
number of viruses can be transmitted through
pollen to the seed (e.g. áarley stripe mosaic virus,
genus Hordeivirus) while many that cause systemic
infections accumulate in vegetatively-propagated
crops. The major vectors of plant viruses are:
Since tobacco mosaic virus (T—V) has been studied
the most extensively, its reproduction will be briefly
described. The replication of virus RNA is an
essential part of the reproduction process. —ost
plants contain RNA-dependent RNA polymerases,
and it is possible that these normal constituents
replicate the virus RNA. However, some plant virus
genomes (e.g., turnip yellow virus and cowpea
mosaic virus) appear to be copied by a virus-specific
RNA replicase. Possibly T—V RNA is also replicated
by a viral RNA polymerase, but the evidence is not
clear on this matter. Four T—V-specific proteins, one
of them the coat protein, are known to be made.
After the coat protein and RNA genome have been
synthesized, they spontaneously assemble into
complete T—V virions in a highly organized process.
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 2nsects. This forms the largest and most significant vector group and
particularly includes:
Aphids: transmit viruses from many different genera, including
6otyvirus, Cucumovirus and Luteovirus.The picture shows the green
peach aphid Myzus persicae, the vector of many plant viruses, including
6otato virus Y. (Figure from Nuessly & Webb, Insect —anagement for
Leafy Vegetables, ENY-475, September 2003, University of Florida,
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)).

Whiteflies: transmit viruses from several genera but particularly those

in the genus áegomovirus. The picture shows áemisia tabaci, the vector
of many viruses including Tomato yellow leaf curl virus and Lettuce
infectious yellows virus.

!oppers: transmit viruses from several genera, including those in the

families j abdoviridae and jeoviridae. The picture shows Micrutalis
malleifera, the treehopper vector of Tomato pseudo-curly top virus.

Thrips: transmit viruses in the genus Tospovirus. The picture shows

Frankinella occidentalis, the western flower thrips that is a major vector
of Tomato spotted wilt virus.

áeetles: transmit viruses from several genera, including Comovirus and

 ematodes: these are root-feeding parasites, some
of which transmit viruses in the genera Nepovirus
and Tobravirus. The picture shows an adult female
of 6aratric odorus pac ydermus, the vector of
Tobacco rattle virus. (Figure from Description 398,
courtesy of the Scottish Crop Research Station).
 6lasmodiophorids: these are root-infecting
obligate parasites traditionally regarded as fungi
but now known to be more closely related to
protists. They transmit viruses in the genera
áenyvirus, áymovirus, Furovirus, 6ecluvirus and
6omovirus. The picture shows 6olymyxa graminis,
the vector of several cereal viruses including áarley
yellow mosaic virus, growing within a barley root
 —ites: these transmit viruses in the genera
jymovirus and Tritimovirus. The picture shows
Aceria tosic ella, the vector of W eat streak mosaic
virus. (bar represents 10 µm).


Prescott, Harley and Klein's 5th edition 415-440
of virus replication