Beyond Pesticides: Targeting Plant-Virus Interactions for Effective and Sustainable Agriculture

This project was selected for the Sciathon Forum during the 73rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

The project aims to develop pesticide-free sustainable agriculture strategies to combat the most economically important crop viruses by understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms.

Yellow dwarf viruses (YDV) are among the most widespread and globally damaging pathogens of cereal crops. In addition to causing substantial yield losses (up to 80%) in major food crops, YDVs also negatively impact native grassland biodiversity. The most employed way to control YDVs so far is to control the insect vector population, mainly through pesticides. However, these problematic pesticides accumulate in the environment, cause the evolution of pesticide-resistant insects, harm beneficial insects, and pose potential health risks to humans and wildlife. Thus, there is an urgent need to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the YDV infection to develop alternative, efficient, and sustainable virus disease management strategies. The formation of viral replication compartments (VRCs) within host cells is a critical step of the viral infection. Yet, for YDVs, our understanding of VRC assembly, especially the role of host proteins, remains very limited.

Addressing this knowledge gap, by analyzing the molecular interactions between the virus and host plant, is the central aim of the proposed project. Genes encoding some of these plant proteins are expected to be susceptibility factors, and therefore potential sources of resistance. The project has three core objectives aiming at i) creating a spatially-resolved BYDV-plant protein interactome, ii) understanding the molecular mechanisms of YDV replication and VRC formation, with a focus on the ESCRT pathway, and iii) providing experimental evidence that the identified candidate genes can afford resistance to YDVs in cereal crops. These objectives will be achieved by using advanced techniques like proximity labeling, correlative microscopy, phloem proteomics, and genome editing. This project holds potential for significant scientific and socioeconomic impact. These impacts align with environmental protection initiatives like the ECOPHYTO 2025 and EU’s “Farm to Fork” strategy, promoting sustainable agriculture.

Group Leader

Syed Zaidi, Lindau Alumnus 2018

INRAE & University of Bordeaux, France

Group Members

Muna Al-Hinai, Lindau Alumna 2022
Saikat Nandi, Young Scientist 2024
Anaclet Nsabimana, Lindau Alumnus 2021
Rihards Ruska, Young Scientist 2024