Browsing by Author "Cuellar, Wilmer"

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  • Cuellar, Wilmer (Helsingin yliopisto, 2008)
    The studies presented in this thesis aimed to a better understanding of the molecular biology of Sweet potato chlorotic stunt virus (SPCSV, Crinivirus, Closteroviridae) and its role in the development of synergistic viral diseases. The emphasis was on the severe sweet potato virus disease (SPVD) that results from a synergistic interaction of SPCSV and Sweet potato feathery mottle virus (SPFMV, Potyvirus, Potyviridae). SPVD is the most important disease affecting sweetpotato. It is manifested as a significant increase in symptom severity and SPFMV titres. This is accompanied by a dramatic sweetpotato yield reduction. SPCSV titres remain little affected in the diseased plants. Viral synergistic interactions have been associated with the suppression of an adaptive general defence mechanism discovered in plants and known as RNA silencing. In the studies of this thesis two novel proteins (RNase3 and p22) identified in the genome of a Ugandan SPCSV isolate were shown to be involved in suppression of RNA silencing. RNase3 displayed a dsRNA-specific endonuclease activity that enhanced the RNA-silencing suppression activity of p22. Comparative analyses of criniviral genomes revealed variability in the gene content at the 3´end of the genomic RNA1. Molecular analyses of different isolates of SPCSV indicated a marked intraspecific heterogeneity in this region where the p22 and RNase3 genes are located. Isolates of the East African strain of SPCSV from Tanzania and Peru and an isolate from Israel were missing a 767-nt fragment that included the p22 gene. However, regardless of the absence of p22, all SPCSV isolates acted synergistically with SPFMV in co-infected sweetpotato, enhanced SPFMV titres and caused SPVD. These results showed that p22 is dispensable for development of SPVD. The role of RNase3 in SPVD was then studied by generating transgenic plants expressing the RNase3 protein. These plants had increased titres of SPFMV (ca. 600-fold higher in comparison with nontransgenic plants) 2-3 weeks after graft inoculation and displayed the characteristic SPVD symptoms. RNA silencing suppression (RSS) activity of RNase3 was detected in agroinfiltrated leaves of Nicotiana bethamiana. In vitro studies showed that RNase3 was able to cleave small interferring RNAs (siRNA) to products of ~14-nt. The data thus identified RNase3 as a suppressor of RNA silencing able to cleave siRNAs. RNase3 expression alone was sufficient for breaking down resistance to SPFMV in sweetpotato and for the development of SPVD. Similar RNase III-like genes exist in animal viruses which points out a novel and possibly more general mechanism of RSS by viruses. A reproducible method of sweetpotato transformation was used to target RNA silencing against the SPCSV polymerase region (RdRp) with an intron-spliced hairpin construct. Hence, engineered resistance to SPCSV was obtained. Ten out of 20 transgenic events challenged with SPCSV alone showed significantly reduced virus titres. This was however not sufficient to prevent SPVD upon coinfection with SPFMV. Immunity to SPCSV seems to be required to control SPVD and targeting of different SPCSV regions need to be assessed in further studies. Based on the identified key role of RNase3 in SPVD the possibility to design constructs that target this gene might prove more efficient in future studies.