Virus infections in wild plant populations are both frequent and often unapparent

Holly R. Prendeville, Xiaohong Ye, T. Jack Morris, Diana Pilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


• Premise of the study: Pathogens are thought to regulate host populations. In agricultural crops, virus infection reduces yield. However, in wild plants little is known about the spatial and temporal patterns of virus prevalence. Thus, pathogen effects on plant population dynamics are unclear. Prevalence data provide necessary background for (1) evaluating the effects of virus infection on plant population size and dynamics and (2) improving risk assessment of virus-resistant transgenic crops. • Methods: We used ELISA and RT-PCR to survey wild Cucurbita pepo populations over 4 years for five viruses, aphid-transmitted viruses of the genus Potyvirus as a group and PCR to survey for virus-resistance transgenes. In addition, we surveyed the literature for reports of virus prevalence in wild populations. • Key results: In 21 C. pepo populations, virus prevalence (0-74%) varied greatly among populations, years, and virus species. In samples analyzed by both ELISA and RT-PCR, RT-PCR detected 6-44% more viruses than did ELISA. Eighty percent of these infections did not cause any visually apparent symptoms. In our samples, the virus-resistance transgene was not present. In 30 published studies, 92 of 146 tested species were infected with virus, and infection rates ranged from 0.01-100%. Most published studies used ELISA, suggesting virus prevalence is higher than reported. • Conclusions: In wild C. pepo, the demographic effects of virus are likely highly variable in space and time. Further, our literature survey suggests that such variation is probably common across plant species. Our results indicate that risk assessments for virus-resistant transgenic crops should not rely on visual symptoms or ELISA and should include data from multiple populations over multiple years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1033-1042
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cucumber mosaic virus
  • Cucurbita pepo
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Papaya ringspot virus
  • Potyvirus
  • Squash mosaic virus
  • Unapparent virus infection
  • Virus prevalence
  • Watermelon mosaic virus
  • Zucchini yellow mosaic virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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