Bee kind to viruses

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The smell of sickly sweetness

CUCUMBER mosaic virus is not restricted to its eponymous host. It can also ravage tomatoes—stunting them and causing them to produce contorted tendril-like leaves. Given this devastation, it is surprising susceptible plants continue to exist; natural selection should have produced resistance years ago. A paper in this week’s PLoS Pathogens, however, explains the apparent contradiction. The team that wrote it, led by John Carr of Cambridge University, found that the virus actually helps its host to reproduce. It does so using an unsuspecting accomplice: the bumble-bee.

Like many discoveries, this one was accidental. Dr Carr had ordered some equipment to analyse the volatile chemicals emitted by infected tomato plants. While he was waiting for it to arrive, a colleague offered to lend him some bees, as these pollinators are known for their sense of smell. His team placed both healthy and infected plants in a greenhouse, covered them so that the bees could smell but not see them, and released the insects.

The bees could indeed tell…Continue reading
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