Virus protein discovery reveals new plant-animal class of cell division disruptors

Viruses are ubiquitous pathogens that can cause severe infectious diseases in both humans and agricultural crops. As most viruses have simple genomes and encode only a few proteins, they must usurp host cell resources for propagation. Understanding what host processes are disrupted and which viral proteins are involved greatly facilitate the design of therapeutic measures for controlling viral diseases in humans and crop plants.

Recently, researchers from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered a plant viral protein named 17K that disrupts host cell division to promote its own propagation in infected tissues. They also linked it structurally to certain animal virus proteins.

The work was published online in Science Advances on May 13. It is the result of a decade-long collaboration between the IGDB group led by Dr. Wang Daowen and the laboratory of Dr. Zhao Yuqi at the School of Medicine of the University of Maryland.The 17K protein is conserved in a group of cereal-infecting viruses called barley yellow dwarf viruses (BYDVs). Even though BYDVs have been studied for more than 60 years, they frequently cause severe epidemics in global wheat, barley, maize and oat crops, with yellowing and dwarfing as typical results.

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