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EMBO Workshop: Green viruses, from gene to landscape, Hyères-les-Palmiers, France 7th – 11th September 2013.
The Green viruses EMBO workshop was held in the South of France in September and brought together around 120 plant and ecological virologists from around the world. The organisers, Isabelle Jupin and Stéphane Blanc, put together an excellent programme of varied oral presentations and stimulating poster sessions. The size of the workshop allowed for much mingling and discussion on the latest advances in plant virus research, from cell biology and host resistance to viruses through to virus evolution and biodiversity.
As my current research focuses on using Barley stripe mosaic virus as a vector for virus-induced gene silencing in cereals to study host defence against fungal pathogens, I was a little apprehensive that my poster on studying plant-fungal interactions would stick out like an alien thumb. However, I found myself in various conversations discussing how infection of plants with multiple pathogens (viral, bacterial and fungal) could affect the host defence response, and also how virus-induced gene silencing could be improved in both cereal and dicot host species. I was particularly interested to see that many researchers are now using virus-induced gene silencing to study or identify the role of host proteins in plant-virus interactions.
As indicated above, the presentations covered a wide range of topics within the study of plant virology. However one of the recurring underlying threads throughout the first two days of the conference was how viruses (or indeed plant pathogens more generally) have evolved amazingly diverse yet ingenious ways of infecting plants by exploiting, hijacking or otherwise subverting host processes. Paul Ahlquist (University of Wisconsin, USA) and Paul Nagy (University of Kentucky, USA) described how they were independently utilising yeast host models to identify host proteins hijacked by viruses for the formation of viral replication complexes.
Joel Milner’s (University of Glasgow, UK) data on the functionally diverse Cauliflower mosaic virus P6 protein was an example of the extreme versatility of viruses, packing roles in virus replication, transmission, movement and suppression of host defences in just one protein.
I was also intrigued to learn more about the area of virus meta-genomics, particularly as I had not been aware of how much progress had been made in this area of research in recent years. In the last session of the conference, entitled ‘Molecular ecology’, some of the latest advances in studying virus biodiversity and their potential effect on their surrounding environment were presented.
Marilyn Roossinck (Penn State University, USA) presented work on persistent plant viruses and suggested that they could have been transferred between plants and fungi. This prompts me to wonder whether plant-infecting viruses could also be transmitted between plant hosts via fungal intermediates, such as mycorrhizal fungal networks. Arvind Varsani (University of Canterbury, New Zealand) presented a ‘top-down’ approach towards characterisation of single- stranded DNA viruses in ecosystems, which involved sampling of insect predators to identify novel viruses, including a number of plant-infecting DNA viruses. I felt that the presentations on virus evolution and their role in ecological systems ensured that the delegates pondered the wider interaction between plant viruses, their hosts and other plant-interacting organisms on their onwards journeys after this stimulating conference.
The organisers did an excellent job in putting together a great programme. I enjoyed it very much and would like to thank BSPP for financially supporting my attendance at this workshop. .
Wing Sham Lee Rothamsted Research.