[ASC-media] OLD AND NEW PLANTS FIGHT IT OUT IN SOUTH-WEST HOT SPOT: WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre Media Release (24/7/08)

BRENDON CANT brendon at iinet.net.au
Thu Jul 24 05:43:49 CEST 2008


Movement of viruses between native plants and introduced crops is being
investigated in a new research project focusing on WA’s South West
Australian Floristic Region (SWAFR).

According to Professor Mike Jones, Director, WA State Agricultural
Biotechnology Centre (SABC), Murdoch University, the SWAFR represents a
unique interface between an ancient ecosystem and modern agriculture.

“It is one of 34 international ‘hot spots’ of global diversity and endemic
plant species.

“Unlike Eurasia where agriculture has occurred for thousands of years,
agriculture has only existed in WA for 150 years,” Professor Jones said.

“This provides the opportunity to investigate encounters where plant viruses
present in native plants can move into crop plants and vice versa.”

SABC Senior Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Stephen Wylie and colleagues at the SABC
and Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) discovered the first new
virus identified from an indigenous plant in this region, naming it
Hardenbergia mosaic virus.

“This virus infects the native wisteria, Hardenbergia comptonia, causing
mottling and distortion of the leaf and may affect its ability to persist in
the wild,” he said.

“Viruses are usually transported via a vector from one plant to another and
the vector can be an insect, pollen, soil fungus or the mechanical action of

“We know from glasshouse experiments that this new virus can readily infect

According to Dr Wylie, native wisteria often grows around the margins of
lupin crops and Hardenbergia mosaic virus therefore has the potential to
infect lupin, an important rotation crop in WA, which is the world’s largest
lupin producer.

Another concern is that commercial nurseries which propagate plants or
re-vegetate degraded natural areas could inadvertently spread viruses within
the nursery, which could then be transferred back into the natural

“Monoculture conditions in the nursery provide a perfect ’green bridge’ that
may make it easy for vectors to survive and pass on viruses,” Dr Wylie said.

“So far, we’ve only found one indigenous virus that has evolved in WA’s
south west, but with more than 12,000 endemic plant species in WA it
undoubtedly represents the tip of the iceberg.

“Because of the region’s isolation over millions of years, it’s probable
that there are many undescribed families of viruses yet to be discovered.”

Dr Wylie emphasised the importance of considering how climate change might
affect the ranges of indigenous and introduced plants and insects, creating
new conditions for the transfer of disease.

“It’s also possible that ecosystem stress could cause viruses of introduced
plants to move into native plant communities and we have evidence that this
is already happening.

“Similarly, native viruses could emerge from the flora and be transmitted
into crop species, creating epidemics.

“We know this has already occurred with deforestation in Brazil and Africa,
where insect vectors have caused outbreaks of previously unknown gemini
viruses to move from forest plants into tomatoes and maize and seriously
impact crop production,” he said.

The research is now funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage
Project, supported by the SABC, Saturn Biotech, Worsley Alumina, ALCOA,
Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and DAFWA.


Authorised by SABC and issued on its behalf by
Brendon Cant & Associates, Tel 08 9384 1122


Professor Mike Jones, Tel 08 9360 2424

Dr Stephen Wylie, Tel 08 9360 2920


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