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Petrobia latens: a good mite gone bad.

Petrobia latens: A good mite gone bad

Drought conditions plaguing north central Montana for most of the past five years may be triggering more than the obvious problems for farmers there, plant pathologists report. Petrobia latens, a tiny spider mite found on cereal crops during stretches of dry weather but never before implicated in the spread of disease, now appears responsible for a new disease in barley.

Researchers at Montana State University in Bozeman have been searching since 1983 for the cause of the disease, first recognized in a Montana barley field in 1982. It has since infected crops in five contiguous counties. They report in the May 27 SCIENCE discovering long, filamentous virus-like particles (VLPs) in diseased leaves from infected barley plants, and provide evidence the particles are transmitted by the brown wheat mite. The scientists previously ruled out aphids, leaf hoppers and thrips -- all known to transmit plant viruses -- as carriers of the new disease. But electron microscopy of ultrathin of similar VLPs in the mites' digestive tracts. presence of similar VLPs in the mites' digestive tracts.

Although viruses of similar length (4,000 nanometers) have been identified in animals and insects, such long viruses have not previously been reported in plants, the researchers say. Indeed, they suggest, since the VLPs most resemble certain enveloped, filamentous viruses found in the animal kingdom, they may have originated in mites before developing their new penchant for residing in plants.

The researchers report mites can transmit the disease to healthy plants after feeding on leaves from a diseased plant, but not if they have fed previously only on healthy leaves. They also found young mites hatched from eggs of infected adults can transmit the disease -- even if these youths never fed on diseased plants. This implies the VLPs may be passed to mite offspring via an infected mother's eggs, and that mite eggs may serve as an overwintering host for the disease-causing agent.
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Title Annotation:spider mite may be responsible for new barley disease
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 4, 1988
Words:322
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