Plant virus interactions during viral cell-to-cell movement

Group leader : Manfred HEINLEIN

Research area

Plant intercellular communication plays a key role in the orchestration of plant development, defence responses and pathogenesis, and involves the trafficking of macromolecules through plasmodesmata (PD). The ability of viruses to exploit the macromolecular trafficking pathway through PD has a fundamental impact on agricultural yield. To improve agricultural yield and to understand the mechanism of intercellular communication, we investigate virus- and host-encoded protein- and RNA-effectors and their cellular targets through which viruses (1) operate macromolecular complex assembly and transport mechanisms and (2) subvert host defenses. Plant viruses are also developed for use as nanocarriers for intravital imaging and anti-cancer agents.

Our research programs are partly funded by international (e.g. Plant-KBBE, CNRS PICS, SusCrop  ERA-NET BioProtect) and national (ANR, IDEX Unistra, League contre le Cancer) programs. Our team has joint research projects with teams in Germany, Spain, Argentina and Russia.


Plant virus movement in the context of plant defense responses

Project manager: Manfred HEINLEIN

Using large-scale RNA profiling and genetic studies in model plants and crops we characterize the role of plant:virus interactions at the level of plant defense (RNA silencing, PTI) and viral counter-defense (silencing suppression) in determining (a) host susceptibility and the efficiency of virus invasion, and (b) the outcome of infection with respect to disease. Host genes targeted by virus-encoded small RNA effectors may represent important targets for crop improvement as they may be useful for interfering with virus invasion at a very early stage of infection and thus prevent disease.

Characterization of systemic, virus-triggered signaling responses

Project manager: Manfred HEINLEIN

Using tissue-specific profiling, we characterize the protein and RNA response network elicited by systemic signals incited by local virus infections in leaves. The results are expected to provide insights into important systemic signalling pathways that allow plants to react to the presence of viral pathogens and to survive in their environment.

Development of genetic sprays against viruses

Project manager: Manfred HEINLEIN

Viruses induce severe damages on cultivated plants and represent a serious threat to global food security. Incidences of plant virus diseases can be restrained to some extent by controlling the viral insect vectors or by using resistant crop cultivars. However, to control virus epidemics in a more environmentally friendly and flexible manner, novel tools and methods are needed. As one potential approach, we aim to develop and characterize the application of dsRNA-based vaccines that trigger host antiviral RNA silencing and thus protection against the infecting virus.

Plant virus-derived nanoparticles for the imaging and treatment of cancer

Project manager: Manfred HEINLEIN

Nanoparticles play an ever-increasing role as carriers to ferry specific drugs to specific tissues and cells for the treatment of diseases. Together with INSERM researchers, we develop plant virus-derived nanoparticles as a platform for the expression and delivery of anti-cancer drugs.