Media Release – 24/7/08
OLD AND NEW PLANTS FIGHT IT OUT IN SOUTH-WEST HOT SPOT
Movement of viruses between native plants and introduced crops is being investigated in
a new research project focusing on WA‟s South West Australian Floristic Region
According to Professor Mike Jones, Director, WA State Agricultural Biotechnology
Centre (SABC), Murdoch University, the SWAFR represents a unique interface between
an ancient ecosystem and modern agriculture.
“It is one of 34 international „hot spots‟ of global diversity and endemic plant species.
“Unlike Eurasia where agriculture has occurred for thousands of years, agriculture has
only existed in WA for 150 years,” Professor Jones said.
“This provides the opportunity to investigate encounters where plant viruses present in
native plants can move into crop plants and vice versa.”
SABC Senior Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Stephen Wylie and colleagues at the SABC and
Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) discovered the first new virus
identified from an indigenous plant in this region, naming it Hardenbergia mosaic virus.
“This virus infects the native wisteria, Hardenbergia comptonia, causing mottling and
distortion of the leaf and may affect its ability to persist in the wild,” he said.
“Viruses are usually transported via a vector from one plant to another and the vector can
be an insect, pollen, soil fungus or the mechanical action of animals.
“We know from glasshouse experiments that this new virus can readily infect lupins.”
According to Dr Wylie, native wisteria often grows around the margins of lupin crops
and Hardenbergia mosaic virus therefore has the potential to infect lupin, an important
rotation crop in WA, which is the world‟s largest lupin producer.
Another concern is that commercial nurseries which propagate plants or re-vegetate
degraded natural areas could inadvertently spread viruses within the nursery, which could
then be transferred back into the natural environment.
“Monoculture conditions in the nursery provide a perfect ‟green bridge‟ that may make it
easy for vectors to survive and pass on viruses,” Dr Wylie said.
“So far, we‟ve only found one indigenous virus that has evolved in WA‟s south west, but
with more than 12,000 endemic plant species in WA it undoubtedly represents the tip of
“Because of the region‟s isolation over millions of years, it‟s probable that there are
many undescribed families of viruses yet to be discovered.”
Dr Wylie emphasised the importance of considering how climate change might affect the
ranges of indigenous and introduced plants and insects, creating new conditions for the
transfer of disease.
“It‟s also possible that ecosystem stress could cause viruses of introduced plants to move
into native plant communities and we have evidence that this is already happening.
“Similarly, native viruses could emerge from the flora and be transmitted into crop
species, creating epidemics.
“We know this has already occurred with deforestation in Brazil and Africa, where insect
vectors have caused outbreaks of previously unknown gemini viruses to move from forest
plants into tomatoes and maize and seriously impact crop production,” he said.
The research is now funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project,
supported by the SABC, Saturn Biotech, Worsley Alumina, ALCOA, Kings Park and
Botanic Gardens and DAFWA.
Authorised by SABC and issued on its behalf by
Brendon Cant & Associates, Tel 08 9384 1122
Professor Mike Jones, Tel 08 9360 2424
Dr Stephen Wylie, Tel 08 9360 2920
HardenbergiaMosaicVirus.jpg: Mottling and distortion on leaves of native wisteria
(Hardenbergia comptonia) due to Hardenbergia mosaic virus, first discovered by
researchers at the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, Murdoch University.
Prof MikeJones SABC.JPG: Professor Mike Jones, Director, WA State Agricultural