My lab investigates the interactions of plant RNA viruses with host cell membranes during replication and cell-to-cell transport.
Plant viruses are a major threat to food security. Unlike viruses infecting animals, they need to cross the barrier of the cell wall during infection. This step constitutes a severe bottleneck in the infection process, and is therefore a promising target for the development of new antiviral crop protection strategies.
RNA viruses assemble replication complexes on membrane surfaces and extensively reorganise membrane composition and shape in the process. Membrane interactions also play a role in plant viruses intercellular transport because this occurs through cell wall-spanning nanopores called plasmodesmata that consist of two concentric membrane tubules. Recently, I discovered that in some plant viruses, the processes of replication and movement are coupled in modified membrane structures at the entrances of the plasmodesmata.
We use a combination of confocal and super-resolution microscopy of RNA and proteins, protein biochemistry, in vitro reconstitution of membrane-bound protein complexes, and lipidomics to understand how plant virus-encoded proteins modify cellular membranes for replication and movement, and how this knowledge can be translated into crop protection strategies and biotechnology applications.
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