Year of Publication


Document Type





Plant Physiology

First Advisor

Peter D. Nagy


Rapid evolution of RNA viruses with mRNA-sense genomes is a major concern to health and economic welfare due to the devastating diseases these viruses inflict on humans, animals and plants. Rapid viral RNA evolution is frequently due to RNA recombination, which can be facilitated by recombination signals present in viral RNAs. Among such signals are short sequences with high AU contents that constitute recombination hot spots in Brome mosaic virus (BMV) and retroviruses. We have demonstrated that a defective interfering (DI) RNA, a model template associated with Tomato bushy stunt virus (TBSV), a tombusvirus, undergoes frequent recombination in plants and protoplast cells when it carries the AU-rich hot spot sequence from BMV. Similar to the situation with BMV, most of the recombination junction sites in the DI RNA recombinants were found within the AU-rich region. Our results support the idea that common AU-rich recombination signals might promote interviral recombination between unrelated viruses. To test if host genes can affect the evolution of RNA viruses, we used a Saccharomyces cerevisiae single-gene deletion library, which includes ~80% of yeast genes, in RNA recombination studies based on a small viral replicon RNA derived from TBSV. The genome-wide screen led to the identification of five host genes, whose absence resulted in rapid generation of novel viral RNA recombinants. Thus, these genes normally suppress viral RNA recombination, but in their absence hosts become viral recombination hotbeds. Four of the five recombination suppressor genes are likely involved in RNA degradation, suggesting that RNA degradation could play a role in viral RNA recombination. Overall, our results demonstrate for the first time that a set of host genes have major effect on RNA virus recombination and evolution. Replication of the non-segmented, plus-stranded RNA genome of Cucumber necrosis tombusvirus (CNV) requires two essential overlapping viral-coded replication proteins, the p33 replication co-factor and the p92 RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. We have demonstrated that p33 is phosphorylated in vivo and in vitro by a membrane-bound plant kinase. Based on in vitro studies with purified recombinant p33, we show evidence for phosphorylation of threonine and serine residues adjacent to the essential RNA-binding site in p33. Our findings suggest that phosphorylation of threonine/serine residues adjacent to the essential RNA-binding site in the auxiliary p33 protein likely plays a role in viral RNA replication and subgenomic RNA synthesis during tombusvirus infections.