Biotech Updates

Scientists Discover Hidden Gene in Major Plant Virus Family

May 30, 2008

The virus family Potyviridae includes more than 30 percent of known plant virus species, most of which are of great agricultural significance such as the potato virus Y, turnip mosaic virus and wheat streak mosaic virus. Scientists from the Iowa State University, working with colleagues from the University College Cork in Ireland, have discovered a tiny gene present in all members of this virus family. Without this gene, the viruses are harmless.

Using a gene-finding software, the team identified a stretch of nucleotide bases that overlaps with a much larger and well characterized gene in potyviruses. They called the new gene pipo (short for pretty interesting potyvirus ORF). Alterations in the sequence of the pipo gene, while leaving the polyprotein amino acid sequence unaltered, were found to be lethal for the viruses.

The team led by Allen Miller and John Atkins are now working to determine the function of gene during infection as well as how the pipo protein is expressed from the viral genome. For this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Research Initiative (USDA-NRI) has awarded them with a $400,000 competitive grant.

For more information, visit Read the paper published by PNAS at