Working in a partnership with vegetable breeding companies, scientists from Dutch research company KeyGene have discovered sweet pepper plants which show a new type of insensitivity to a group of harmful pathogens: geminiviruses. The new find is also described as a ‘loss of susceptibility’.
This type of insensitivity to virus infections is expected to last longer than the commonly used ‘resistance’ approach. The scientists presented their findings at an international scientific conference in Glasgow on 14 July. KeyGene aims to use this breakthrough to contribute to the sustainable cultivation of crops such as sweet and hot pepper, cotton and cassava, which currently require regular spraying against whitefly, the main disseminator of geminiviruses.
In addition to causing a loss of yield in various crops worldwide, geminiviruses are a key factor in the so-called ‘zero tolerance’ chemical approach to the whitefly. This insect can disseminate the virus so efficiently that only a small number can engender massive virus damage.
To breed crops that are sensitive to geminiviruses (such as sweet and hot pepper, cotton and cassava) in a more sustainable way and achieve good yield stability, crops with a resistance to the virus offer a smart and effective solution. However, very few varieties with resistance against geminiviruses have been available to date and no resistance against the virus is available for breeding in crops such as sweet pepper.
A characteristic of resistant plants is their ability to defend themselves against viruses by recognising them. The genetic material of viruses can change easily, however, which may mean that the plant can no longer recognise the virus, and the resistance stops working. While the traditional approach to tackling this problem involves introducing a new resistance by breeding with for instance wild relatives of a crop plant, such breeding programmes take many years.
In cooperation with four leading vegetable breeding companies, Rijk Zwaan, Enza, Limagrain Vegetable Seeds and Takii, KeyGene scientists chose a strategy that is very similar to resistance yet still completely different: breeding crops that have lost their susceptibility and, in doing so, become insensitive to the virus.
These non-susceptible plants do not need to defend themselves at all: the viruses cannot get to them as the plant no longer produces a particular protein required for infection by the virus. It is expected that this ‘loss of susceptibility’ approach will last longer than ‘resistance’ as it is much harder for viruses to adapt to something that is not there than to something that is.
For more information:
Agro Business Park 90
6708 PW Wageningen
P.O. Box 216
6700 AE Wageningen
T +31 (0)317 466 866
F +31 (0)317 424 939