Tag Archives: PPWS

Tracking and stopping human and agricultural viruses

Xiaofeng Wang, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science

Xiaofeng Wang, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science

Viruses are molecular thieves that take from their hosts under the cloak of darkness. But now a Virginia Tech scientist has found a way to not only track viral hijackers, but also to potentially stop them from replicating.

The discovery has broad-ranging applications in stopping viral outbreaks such as hepatitis C in humans and a number of viruses in plants and animals because it applies to many viruses in the largest category of viral classes — positive-strand RNA viruses.

“Even though these viruses infect very different hosts, they all replicate similarly across the board, so what we learn from one virus can potentially be translated to control viruses in agricultural production as well as human health,” said Xiaofeng Wang, an assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Wang’s findings could target any number of plant viruses by developing sprays to halt the virus, which would save the agricultural sectors millions of dollars.

Wang used the brome mosaic virus to study how viral infections start. He found that by inhibiting host lipid cell synthesis, the viral replication stopped.

Wang also collaborated with researchers to study how human viruses like hepatitis C and poliovirus regulate host lipid synthesis. He found that viral replication behaved in the same way as plant viruses.

Developing a drug delivery system to combat the hepatitis C virus has vast ramifications for human health. The system would be much more nimble at treating viral outbreaks than slow-moving vaccines and could play a crucial role in halting the debilitating infection that affects 3.5 million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Research aids in the fight against invasive species

Invasive Species Potluck – Virginia Tech from VirginiaTech on Vimeo.

From soybean fields to hemlocks forests, experts from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension are developing ways to deal with and control the hitchhikers, interlopers, and otherwise nasty pests known as invasive species.

“The top 10 pests that we deal with now are non-native, and we spend lots of money to control them,” said Eric Day, an entomologist with Virginia Cooperative Extension and manager of the Insect Identification Lab in the Department of Entomology.

Meanwhile Assistant Professor Jacob Barney in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, collaboratively studies another invasive species — Johnsongrass — a weed that chokes out crops on farmland because of its fast-growing and extensive root structure.


Jacob Barney, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, is just one of a team of faculty members studying invasive species and protecting Virginia producers from their destruction.

Barney will study what makes Johnsongrass a globally successful weed and use the research to establish a model for studying other weeds and how to predict invasiveness.

Another most-wanted intruder, the brown marmorated stink bug, is an annoyance to homeowners, but the real problem is the millions of dollars in damage it causes to crops across the Mid-Atlantic region.

“We have very few agricultural commodities that this bug does not attack,” said Associate Professor Tom Kuhar, an Extension entomologist.

Kuhar and his team of graduate students are studying aspects of the stink bug’s biology and ecology, its insecticide efficacy, and sustainable practices for managing it in vegetable crops.

Day recently returned from Berks County, Pennsylvania, where a pest that attacks grapes and other stone fruit crops like peaches has been identified: the spotted lanternfly.

“It’s a two-prong effort, identifying them and also making people aware of their presence,” Day said. “Virginia Cooperative Extension and our partner organizations play a large role in helping to get the word out about these invasive species so producers and the general public can control them.”

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