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Virus that combats potato diseases named after Cork in Ireland

A new group of helpful viruses which tackle the diseases which blight potato crops have been named Cork, the second largest city in Ireland, located in the south-west of Ireland, in the province of Munster. Eoin English reports for the Irish Examiner.

When Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) PhD student, Colin Buttimer, was asked by his supervisor to gather soil samples from potato farms around West Cork to discover natural predators of the causative agent of potato diseases such as soft-rot and blackleg, he never guessed that he would discover a virus which kills bacteria (known as a bacteriophage) that was quite different from others in the scientific literature.

Colin Buttimer, the 31 year-old researcher who discovered ‘Corkvirinae‘, said he is delighted to name the new viruses after where they were found. But more importantly, he said they have the potential for controlling potato late blight.

“There is a view in the general public, especially after the last few months, that there are negative connotations associated with the word virus,” Mr Buttimer said. “But some can play really beneficial roles in human health. And these viruses can prevent bacteria from spreading in potato crops.” 

Virus that combats potato blight named after Cork
Prof Aidan Coffey and former CIT PhD student
Colin Buttimer | Irish Examiner

Mr Buttimer, from near Clonakilty, was trying to find natural virus predators of bacteria, known as bacteriophages, while pursuing a PhD at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). Bacteriophages are so tiny, they are measured in nanometres – one billionth of a metre. He was looking specifically for the natural virus predator of Pectobacterium, which causes soft rot and blackleg in potatoes.

He found some in soil and potato samples taken from farms in West Cork, and after analysing their DNA under an electron microscope, he thought he’d found something new.

The international body which categorises viruses agreed and the honour of naming the sub-group, or taxonomic subfamily, fell to his and his PhD supervisor, Professor Aidan Coffey at CIT. The name, Corkvirinae, has now been ratified by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

Prof Coffey is keeping them safe in a virus bank in the hope that their potential as a bio-control system can be explored further.

Source: Irish Examiner
Press release: Cork Institute of Technology
Photo at the top: Soft

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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