Mycoviruses of filamentous fungi and their relevance to plant pathology

Mol Plant Pathol. 2009 Jan;10(1):115-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1364-3703.2008.00503.x.


Mycoviruses (fungal viruses) are reviewed with emphasis on plant pathogenic fungi. Based on the presence of virus-like particles and unencapsidated dsRNAs, mycoviruses are common in all major fungal groups. Over 80 mycovirus species have been officially recognized from ten virus families, but a paucity of nucleic acid sequence data makes assignment of many reported mycoviruses difficult. Although most of the particle types recognized to date are isometric, a variety of morphologies have been found and, additionally, many apparently unencapsidated dsRNAs have been reported. Until recently, most characterized mycoviruses have dsRNA genomes, but ssRNA mycoviruses now constitute about one-third of the total. Two hypotheses for the origin of mycoviruses of plant pathogens are discussed: the first that they are of unknown but ancient origin and have coevolved along with their hosts, the second that they have relatively recently moved from a fungal plant host into the fungus. Although mycoviruses are typically readily transmitted through asexual spores, transmission through sexual spores varies with the host fungus. Evidence for natural horizontal transmission has been found. Typically, mycoviruses are apparently symptomless (cryptic) but beneficial effects on the host fungus have been reported. Of more practical interest to plant pathologists are those viruses that confer a hypovirulent phenotype, and the scope for using such viruses as biocontrol agents is reviewed. New tools are being developed based on host genome studies that will help to address the intellectual challenge of understanding the fungal-virus interactions and the practical challenge of manipulating this relationship to develop novel biocontrol agents for important plant pathogens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Fungi / virology*
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology
  • Plant Diseases / virology*
  • RNA Viruses / classification
  • RNA Viruses / genetics
  • RNA Viruses / pathogenicity*