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Fri, Feb

Virus attracts bumblebees to infected plants by changing scent

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Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) alters gene expression in the tomato plants it infects, causing changes to air-borne chemicals - the scent - emitted by the plants. Bees can smell these subtle changes, and glasshouse experiments have shown that bumblebees prefer infected plants over healthy ones.

Scientists say that by indirectly manipulating bee behaviour to improve pollination of infected plants by changing their scent, the virus is effectively paying its host back. This may also benefit the virus: helping to spread the pollen of plants susceptible to infection and, in doing so, inhibiting the chance of virus-resistant plant strains emerging.

Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) alters gene expression in the tomato plants it infects, causing changes to air-borne chemicals - the scent - emitted by the plants. Bees can smell these subtle changes, and glasshouse experiments have shown that bumblebees prefer infected plants over healthy ones.

Scientists say that by indirectly manipulating bee behaviour to improve pollination of infected plants by changing their scent, the virus is effectively paying its host back. This may also benefit the virus: helping to spread the pollen of plants susceptible to infection and, in doing so, inhibiting the chance of virus-resistant plant strains emerging.

The authors of the new study, published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens, say that understanding the smells that attract bees, and reproducing these artificially by using similar chemical blends, may enable growers to protect or even enhance yields of bee-pollinated crops.

"Bees provide a vital pollination service in the production of three-quarters of the world's food crops. With their numbers in rapid decline, scientists have been searching for ways to harness pollinator power to boost agricultural yields," said study principal investigator Dr John Carr, Head of Cambridge's Virology and Molecular Plant Pathology group.

Continue reading at EurekAlert!

Image via United States Department of Agriculture

Image Credits: Stephen Ausmus