Plant Viruses Used to Ward Off Pests

Imagine a technology that could target pesticides to treat specific spots deep within the soil, making them more effective at controlling infestations while limiting their toxicity to the environment.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego and Case Western Reserve University have taken a step toward that goal. They discovered that a biological nanoparticle—a plant virus—is capable of delivering pesticide molecules deeper below the ground, to places that are normally beyond their reach.

The work could help farmers better manage difficult pests, like parasitic nematodes that wreak havoc on plant roots deep in the soil, with less pesticide. The work is published May 20 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

It sounds counterintuitive that we can use a plant virus to treat plant health,” said Nicole Steinmetz, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and senior author of the study. “This is an emerging field of research in nanotechnology showing that we can use plant viruses as pesticide delivery systems. It’s similar to how we’re using nanoparticles in medicine to target drugs towards sites of disease and reduce their side effects in patients.

Pesticides are very sticky molecules when applied in the field, Steinmetz explained. They bind strongly to organic matter in the soil, making it difficult to get enough to penetrate deep down into the root level where pests like nematodes reside and cause damage. To compensate, farmers end up applying large amounts of pesticides, which cause harmful residues to build up in the soil and leach into groundwater.

Steinmetz and her team are working to address this problem. In a new study, they discovered that a particular plant virus, Tobacco mild green mosaic virus, can transport small amounts of pesticide deep through the soil with ease.

Source: https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/

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