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A new crop virus reported in North America

Mastreviruses cause considerable damage to crops, often triggering dwarfing of plants. This means that either the crop yield is reduced or the crops in their entirety are unfit for consumption.

The new virus was first noted by researchers looking into why switchgrass crops had developed splotchy, discolored leaves. These types of structural damages are often seen in Europe and Asia when certain crops become infected with types of mastreviruses. Such viruses are not common to North America. Switchgrass is a warm season bunchgrass native to North America. It is used for soil conservation, or as an ornamental grass, and as a biomass crop for ethanol and butanol.

Mastreviruses are typically transferred from plant to plant by leafhoppers, and widespread epidemics can be common in regions of the world with ideal conditions for the insects. Leafhoppers are small insects. They are plant feeders that suck plant sap from grass, shrubs, or trees.

With the new virus, at this stage, scientists are unsure what type of insect is responsible for spreading the disease. The risk is that the virus will be capable of infecting wheat and corn. If so, this could have devastating consequences for the U.S. and Canadian agricultural economies.

Researchers have speculated that the virus has come from overseas, imported into North America by legal or illegal means, via foodstuff or crops infected with the insect that acts as the vector for the virus.

The research has been performed at the Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The findings have been reported to the journal Archives of Virology. The research paper is titled “Detection and characterization of the first North American mastrevirus in switchgrass.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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