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It’s all in the translation, especially for plant viruses. This podcast takes an interesting look at virus expressions in plants and their ability to coopt cellular machinery for their own purposes.

Listen and learn

  • The basics methods a virus uses to infect a plant cell, including insect-vector mechanics,
  • The challenges a virus faces inside the cell to use the ribosomal translation factors, and
  • The ways this knowledge may be used to speed production of vaccines. 

Aurelie Rakotondrafara is an associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She brings an infectious awe to all things viral as she discusses the ways plant viruses work in this episode, from viral gene transfer to viral resistance in plants. Her particular focus is on viral gene expression—how viruses manage to outcompete other cell molecules to make proteins.

The primary goal for any virus, whether animal or plant, is to enter their obligate host cell and replicate. But plant cells have an impenetrable cell wall; unlike with animal viruses, there’s no endocytosis or similar entry method. They often use a vector to put them inside the cell—the majority of plant viruses are transmitted by insects, who are able to penetrate the cell wall and secrete the virus.

Aurelie Rakotondrafara’s research focuses on what the viruses do once they are inside that cell as they work to coopt the cell’s ribosomes. The plant uses ribosomes to make their own proteins and the virus needs to work a complex strategy to trick the ribosomes into making their proteins instead. The majority of plant viruses are RNA viruses, and they are competing with a million of the plant’s mRNA that are already floating in the cytoplasm.

Dr. Rakotondrafara studies the unique strategies that the viruses use to do this. She discusses some of these tricky strategies and mentions one particular wheat virus she studies in detail. That virus has such a tremendous ability to translate that researchers may see if it can be used to speed the production of vaccines.

For more about her work, see her lab’s web page:

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