Virus infection improves drought tolerance

Ping Xu, Fang Chen, Jonathan P Mannas, Tracy Feldman, Lloyd W Sumner, Marilyn J Roossinck

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Viruses are obligate intracellular symbionts. Plant viruses are often discovered and studied as pathogenic parasites that cause diseases in agricultural plants. However, here it is shown that viruses can extend survival of their hosts under conditions of abiotic stress that could benefit hosts if they subsequently recover and reproduce. Various plant species were inoculated with four different RNA viruses, Brome mosaic virus (BMV), Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV), Tobacco mosaic virus and Tobacco rattle virus. The inoculated plants were stressed by withholding water. The onset of drought symptoms in virus-infected plants was compared with that in the plants that were inoculated with buffer (mock-inoculated plants). Metabolite profiling analysis was conducted and compared between mock-inoculated and virus-infected plants before and after being subjected to drought stress. In all cases, virus infection delayed the appearance of drought symptoms. Beet plants infected with CMV also exhibited significantly improved tolerance to freezing. Metabolite profiling analysis showed an increase in several osmoprotectants and antioxidants in BMV-infected rice and CMV-infected beet plants before and after drought stress. These results indicate that virus infection improves plant tolerance to abiotic stress, which correlates with increased osmoprotectant and antioxidant levels in infected plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)911-921
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
Early online date24 Sep 2008
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Physiological Adaptation
  • Antioxidants
  • Dehydration
  • Droughts
  • Freezing
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Plant Diseases
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Plants
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • RNA Viruses

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