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Sneaky virus helps plants multiply, creating more hosts

Infected tomato plants give off special aroma that lures pollinators

2:00pm, August 11, 2016
infected tomato plant

VIRAL VICTORY  Plants infected with cucumber mosaic virus, like this tomato plant, are often stunted and blemished. But the virus appears to help the sick plants reproduce by making them more attractive to bees. 

Instead of destroying its leafy hosts, one common plant virus takes a more backhanded approach to domination. It makes infected plants more attractive to pollinators, ensuring itself a continued supply of virus-susceptible plant hosts for generations to come.

The strategy might be a way for the virus to discourage resistance from building up in the plant population, University of Cambridge biologist John Carr and colleagues report online August 11 in PLOS Pathogens.

“It looks like the pathogen is cheating a little bit —but in a way that helps its host,” says Carr.

Plants give off cocktails of volatile chemicals that send signals to pollinators, predators and other plants. Carr and his team found that tomato plants infected with cucumber mosaic virus gave off a different cocktail of these chemicals than non-infected plants — and that bumblebees preferred the infected

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