New York, Jan 12 IANS | 11 months ago

Scientists have stumbled upon a virus that invades a soil bacteria to hamper its functioning, thus affecting the production of major crops across the world.


Scientists at Florida State University have deconstructed a type of virus called a bacteriophage.

Until now, there was little known about this particular bacteriophage, called the M12, which infects a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called sinorhizobium meliloti.

Important crop plants depend on the biological nitrogen fixation by the bacteria that is preyed upon by this virus.

According to Kathryn Jones and Elizabeth Stroupe, assistant professors in the department of biological science at Florida State University, the discovery would help researchers have a better understanding of how the virus invades and impacts bacteria.

"It turns out there are a lot of novel things about it. The discovery would help the agriculture industry to a great extent," Jones said.

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which abundant nitrogen gas in the atmosphere is converted to the scarce soil resources ammonia and nitrate.

The research, to be published in the February issue of the journal Virology, shows the structural and DNA breakdown of this bacteria-invading virus.

Jones focused on the sequencing the DNA of M12 and analysing its evolutionary context, while Stroupe looked at its overall physical structure.

"The bacteriophage is really just a tool for studying the bacterium," Stroupe said. "No one thought to sequence it before."

That tool, Stroupe said, will give scientists more insight into the basic functions of the M12 bacteriophage.

Understanding both the DNA and structure can provide an understanding of the proteins a bacteriophage produces and how it chooses the bacteria it invades.

In the case of M12, this could be particularly useful in the future for the agriculture community and seed companies, the study noted.

(Posted on 12-01-2014)