Title: Investigating how viruses modulate plant-insect interactions.
Abstract: Most viral pathogens depend on insect vectors for transmission among plants and, ultimately, for survival. As a result, vector-plant interactions are critical to virus epidemiology.My lab seeks to determine the molecular mechanisms that underlie this phenomenon and to utilize this knowledge to develop innovative control strategies for more sustainable agricultural systems. Previously we demonstrated insect vectors have higher fecundity and preferentially settle on potyvirus-infected plants compared to controls. Changes in host physiology which mediate host-vector interactions were due to the expression of a single viral protein, NIa-Pro. Recently, we determined that NIa-Pro relocalizes from the nucleus of the plant cell in the presence of the insect vector. Importantly, NIa-Pro needs to relocalize in order to inhibit plant defenses during infection. These results suggest that plant viruses respond actively to the presence of insect vectors, promoting insect performance and transmission only when needed. We are currently investigating mechanisms used by NIa-Pro to alter plant physiology and plant-vector interactions, the role of other viral proteins in this system and how this research can be applied to develop novel control methods.