Research explores first defense against devastating ToCSV tomato virus at a molecular genetics level

 Credit: Graphic and photo by Therese van Wyk, University of Johannesburg.tomato virus at a molecular genetics level.

How tomato plants defend themselves against a devastating ‘young’ Southern African virus has now been investigated at a molecular genetics level for the first time by researchers at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). The Ty-1 gene is known to confer resistance to the well-known tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV). UJ researchers investigated what happens when tomato plants that harbor the Ty-1 gene are infected with the relatively unknown tomato curly stunt virus (ToCSV). They found a link between tolerance to ToCSV, a plant defense called viral DNA methylation, and Ty-1 gene activity. The research is published in Frontiers in Plant Science.

To find out more about how that happens, they used lab techniques called bisulfite conversion and PCR amplification, coupled with a next-generation whole genome virus sequencing approach. Many pathogens attack tomato plants, which produce the third biggest vegetable crop in the world, after potatoes and cassava. Tomato curly stunt virus originated in South Africa about 30 years ago and is spread by whitefly. The virus can destroy an entire tomato crop, especially if enough plants are infected at a young stage. It has been found in neighboring country Mozambique also. The young tomato curly stunt virus  is similar to the established tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) at the DNA level. But relatively little is known about any ‘tools’ the tomato plants can use to defend themselves against ToCSV, says Dr. Farhahna Allie, lead author on the study. Dr. Allie is a researcher in the UJ Department of Biochemistry.

By University of Johannesburg

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