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When People Go Viral Over Plant Viruses

We tend to think of viruses as nasty germs that we try desperately to get rid of, whether they’re in our bodies, or in our gardens.

Semper Augustus, one of the most expensive tulip sold during tulip mania. TTulip breaking virus causes the red and white streaks. (Wikimedia Commons)
Semper Augustus, one of the most expensive tulips sold during tulip mania. Tulip-breaking virus causes the red and white streaks. (Wikimedia Commons)

However, only a small percentage of the many viruses are pathogens, said Marilyn Roossinck, professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology, and biology. Roossinck recently gave a talk about plant viruses at the Millennium CafĂ©, a weekly coffee break and science chat at Penn State’s Millennium Science Complex.

In fact, most viruses can work with a plant, as well as fungi, to improve plant health. They can boost heat and drought tolerance of certain plants, for example. Viruses can give plants beauty makeovers, too, that — by the way — can lead to economic bubbles. It was this type of viral artistry that helped create Tulip Mania in Holland during the 1630s.

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