The coevolution of plants and viruses: resistance and pathogenicity

Adv Virus Res. 2010:76:1-32. doi: 10.1016/S0065-3527(10)76001-2. Epub 2010 Mar 31.


Virus infection may damage the plant, and plant defenses are effective against viruses; thus, it is currently assumed that plants and viruses coevolve. However, and despite huge advances in understanding the mechanisms of pathogenicity and virulence in viruses and the mechanisms of virus resistance in plants, evidence in support of this hypothesis is surprisingly scant, and refers almost only to the virus partner. Most evidence for coevolution derives from the study of highly virulent viruses in agricultural systems, in which humans manipulate host genetic structure, what determines genetic changes in the virus population. Studies have focused on virus responses to qualitative resistance, either dominant or recessive but, even within this restricted scenario, population genetic analyses of pathogenicity and resistance factors are still scarce. Analyses of quantitative resistance or tolerance, which could be relevant for plant-virus coevolution, lag far behind. A major limitation is the lack of information on systems in which the host might evolve in response to virus infection, that is, wild hosts in natural ecosystems. It is presently unknown if, or under which circumstances, viruses do exert a selection pressure on wild plants, if qualitative resistance is a major defense strategy to viruses in nature, or even if characterized genes determining qualitative resistance to viruses did indeed evolve in response to virus infection. Here, we review evidence supporting plant-virus coevolution and point to areas in need of attention to understand the role of viruses in plant ecosystem dynamics, and the factors that determine virus emergence in crops.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genes, Viral
  • Genetic Variation
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Plant Diseases / genetics*
  • Plant Diseases / virology
  • Plant Viruses / genetics*
  • Plant Viruses / pathogenicity
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Plants / immunology
  • Plants / virology
  • Virulence