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Virus Pulls Bait and Switch on Insect Vectors

A common plant virus lures aphids to infected plants by making the plants more attractive, but when the insects taste the plant, they quickly leave for tastier, healthier ones. In the process, the insects rapidly transmit the disease, according to Penn State entomologists.

"The virus improves the cues that insects use to identify food by elevating some aspect of a trait that is already in the plant," said Mark C. Mescher, assistant professor of entomology. "In this case they appear to elevate the odor cue, without changing it."

This type of host alteration has implications beyond agriculture. If pathogens can alter hosts to make transmission more efficient, they may be doing it in such insect-transmitted human diseases as malaria or dengue fever.

Some plant viruses entice insects to visit infected plants and stay awhile, incorporating the virus into the insect's system. Then, when they fly to another plant, they transfer the virus. This is a persistent mode of transmission because the plants will infect all the subsequent plants the insects dine on. However, the insects needed to spend a sizable amount of time on the original infected plant.
 
 

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