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Spotlight   |  Fall 2007

Plant virus sheds light on HIV

man holding plant
Purdue University molecular geneticist Zhixiang Chen is studying a plant virus that causes illness in the same way that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does. Chen's research eventually could lead to new treatments for the plant disease, HIV and other, similar illnesses.

In a study that could lead to new ways to prevent infection by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and similar organisms, Purdue University researchers have been able to genetically modify a plant to halt reproduction of a related virus.

Cauliflower mosaic virus attacks a group of plants that includes the largest number of agriculturally important plants in the world. The plant virus and HIV, which causes AIDS, use the same process to multiply in their victims' cells and spread disease.

"After HIV infects a person, it must recruit and latch onto particular human proteins so that the virus can replicate throughout the body," says Zhixiang Chen, professor of botany and plant pathology. "We found that cauliflower mosaic virus relies on the same protein complex to multiply in plants."

Cauliflower mosaic virus attacks a plant group that includes cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, turnips, canola and many types of mustard.

The key question for researchers is to discover how blocking the function of one protein inhibits replication of the viruses. The answer could mean major advances for prevention of diseases in plants and animals.




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