Arthropod-transmitted viruses, known as arboviruses, can cause pandemic diseases in humans, animals, and crops. The Zika virus and cassava geminivirus are two such arboviruses. These pathogens often alter host characteristics to directly or indirectly influence arthropod vector behaviors or host-herbivore interactions, thus facilitating disease transmission.
Pathogen-infected hosts may promote the performance of vector insects; but whether and how pathogens affect nonvector insects have been largely unexplored.
In a study published online in Science Advances, a group of scientists led by Prof. Ye Jian from the Institute of Microbiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered that viruses mobilize plant immunity to deter nonvector insect herbivores. They uncovered the mechanism used by begomoviruses (the largest genus of plant viruses in the world) to alter a host plant's immune system. This discovery may facilitate the development of biological methods to control vector-borne diseases.
Unlike animal viruses, the transmission of plant viruses depends more on insect vectors due to the lack of host mobility. Among 1,320 plant viruses worldwide, nearly 80% are transmitted by insect vectors. Currently, controlling viral plant diseases relies almost completely on chemical pesticides, incurring enormous ecological and environmental costs.