AzNativePlantVirus – Insights on the diversity and prevalence of viruses on Azorean native plants by metagenomics: implications on plant biodiversity conservation and crop production

PROJECT TITLE:

AzNativePlantVirus – Insights on the diversity and prevalence of viruses on Azorean native plants by metagenomics: implications on plant biodiversity conservation and crop production

 

PROJECT CODE: ACORES-01-0145-FEDER-000117

MAIN GOAL:

On the AzNativePlantVirus project, we intend to increase the scientific production of quality and oriented to smart specialization by exploring the virus diversity present on Azorean native plants through a metagenomic approach associated with High Throughput Sequencing to achieve the following objectives:

a) Get for the very first-time knowledge on the virus diversity present in Azorean native plants;

b) Explore Azorean endemic plants to increase the knowledge on virus evolution;

c) Identify key driving forces for prevalence and distribution of viruses on Azorean native plant communities;

e) Distinguish indigenous from introduced viruses;

f) Identification and characterization of novel viruses and thereby contribute to expand the knowledge on plant virus diversity;

g) Identify potential emerging viruses that may affect crops and / or endemic flora;

h) Develop and/or improve diagnostic methods, to be used by stakeholders for routine diagnostic, to trace back virus evolution and dissemination, as well as for risk assessment.

 

BENEFICIARY ENTITY: Fundação Gaspar Frutuoso / University of Azores

ELIGIBLE TOTAL COST: 179.997,60 €

EUROPEAN REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT FUND (ERDF): 152.997,96 €

DESCRIPTION:

Viruses are widely dispersed in natural ecosystems, are much more diverse than in agroecosystems, and may be important ecological agents. There is, however, a fundamental information gap on the dynamics of plant viruses in natural ecosystems.

The lack of knowledge on viruses infecting Azorean native flora turns out the critical importance of the assessment of virus diversity present, as a support for conservation policies of endangered plant species and to avoid the spread of damaging viruses to undisturbed natural vegetation. As agricultural lands occupy a large proportion of the area of the Azores, native plant communities are often adjacent to agroecosystems, which favors virus dispersal between both ecosystems. Thus, analyzing virus diversity and population dynamics in these wild ecosystems is also of interest to understand virus epidemics in crops.

On this work, the viromes of five target endemic plant species will be study. For that, we will take advantage of the High Throughput Sequencing (HTS), once the technological advances on these fields have opened novel doors in discovery, diagnostics, and ecological and evolutionary studies in plant viruses.

To achieve the goals proposed, the project workplan comprise five interconnected workpackages (WP):

WP1: Selection of sampling places and sample collection – aims to select and characterize the sampling areas of native flora on two Azorean islands, and plant sample collection from five endemic plants to feed WP2 and WP4.

WP2: Sequencing of viral genomes by HTS – aims to deep-sequence virus-derived small interfering RNAs (v-siRNAs) to assess the viral diversity present on the target native plants.

WP3: Bioinformatics and data integration – aims to perform bioinformatics analyses on the HTS data (WP2) and viral sequence data attained on WP4. In addition, at GIS lab, the data collected at WP1 to WP4 will be integrated.

WP4:Molecular detection and characterization of viruses – aims to perform a deeper molecular characterization of novel viruses, to develop PCR-based assays, and confirm the presence of viruses identified by HTS.

WP5: Project management and dissemination – aims the appropriate coordination of both technical and administrative work, as well the maximization of the project impact and dissemination.

 

RESULTS:

By developing advanced knowledge and technologies, the AzNativePlantVirus project will promote the implementation of more effective containment measures against the emergence of plant diseases in an increasingly disrupted environment as a result of ongoing global changes. Beyond project impact on native habitats, which are essential for Azorean ecotourism and ecosystem services, it extends to agricultural resources and food security.

It is expected to publish at least five papers in international journals with referees, beside communications in national and international meetings. In addition to the annual reports that will be provided to the financing program, during the 3rd year it will provide a report to the local authorities responsible for the management of the protected areas and crop phytosanitary control, emphasizing the project results and potential impacts on the biosecurity of local plant resources.

Due to the amount of data to be generated, it is expected the accomplishment of at least two master thesis and a doctoral thesis. By that, promote the inclusion young people on scientific research and advanced training.

 

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