Aussies Perfect Plant Protection

Published online: Jul 03, 2001
Australian researchers have developed a technique that will vaccinate plants against viruses that cause millions of dollars in lost production.

The breakthrough is of such importance to agriculture that hundreds of laboratories around the world have contacted the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization seeking details.

The CSIRO researchers found a natural genetic mechanism that can change the way plants protect themselves against virus attack. The technique is called post-transcriptional gene silencing (PTGS with intron-spliced `hairpin RNA').

By inserting a seed with a small part of a gene from a specific virus, the plant becomes immunized. This works as vaccines do for humans.

When the plant is invaded, it destroys the virus before it can do any damage. This is expected to increase food production and also benefit the environment.

The CSIRO team has already developed potatoes resistant to potato leaf roll virus using this technique. These plants have been tested in the laboratory, greenhouses, land have under gone field trials.

It is expected that the hpRNA technique will provide a simple approach for producing reliable virus immunity that can be passed down through plant generations.