Aphid transmission of a non-aphid-transmissible strain of zucchini yellow mosaic virus (ZYMV-NAT) occurs in transgenic plants expressing the plum pox potyvirus (PPV) coat protein (CP) gene. Heteroencapsidation has been shown to be responsible for this modification in the epidemiological characteristics of the infecting virus. In order to prevent this biological risk, several modified PPV CP constructs were produced that were designed to interfere with heteroencapsidation itself or to block aphid transmission of heteroencapsidated virions. These constructs were first expressed in Escherichia coli in order to check for the accumulation of pseudo-particles by electron microscopy. Virus-like particles (VLPs) were found with the full-length CP and with a PPV CP lacking the DAG amino acid triplet involved in aphid transmission. However, no VLPs were observed with CP lacking R220, Q221 or D264, amino acids known to be essential for the assembly of other potyvirus CPs. Transgenic Nicotiana benthamiana lines expressing the different PPV CP constructs were infected with ZYMV-NAT. Aphid transmission assays performed with these plants demonstrated that the strategies developed here provide an effective means of minimizing the biological risks associated with heteroencapsidation.


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