The discovery of the first non-cellular infectious agent, later determined to be tobacco mosaic virus, paved the way for the field of virology. In the ensuing decades, research focused on discovering and eliminating viral threats to plant and animal health. However, recent conceptual and methodological revolutions have made it clear that viruses are not merely agents of destruction but essential components of global ecosystems. As plants make up over 80% of the biomass on Earth, plant viruses likely have a larger impact on ecosystem stability and function than viruses of other kingdoms. Besides preventing overgrowth of genetically homogeneous plant populations such as crop plants, some plant viruses might also promote the adaptation of their hosts to changing environments. However, estimates of the extent and frequencies of such mutualistic interactions remain controversial. In this Review, we focus on the origins of plant viruses and the evolution of interactions between these viruses and both their hosts and transmission vectors. We also identify currently unknown aspects of plant virus ecology and evolution that are of practical importance and that should be resolvable in the near future through viral metagenomics.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Infectious Diseases