Can you catch plant viruses?

Pepper mild mottle virus Pepper Mild Mottle Virus, a Plant Virus Associated with Specific Immune Responses, Fever, Abdominal Pains, and Pruritus in Humans. 2010 PLoS ONE 5(4): e10041. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010041
Recently, metagenomic studies have identified viable Pepper mild mottle virus (PMMoV), a plant virus, in the stool of healthy subjects. However, its source and role as pathogen have not been determined.
Methods and Findings: 21 commercialized food products containing peppers, 357 stool samples from 304 adults and 208 stool samples from 137 children were tested for PMMoV using real-time PCR, sequencing, and electron microscopy. Anti-PMMoV IgM antibody testing was concurrently performed. A case-control study tested the association of biological and clinical symptoms with the presence of PMMoV in the stool. Twelve (57%) food products were positive for PMMoV RNA sequencing. Stool samples from twenty-two (7.2%) adults and one child (0.7%) were positive for PMMoV by real-time PCR. Positive cases were significantly more likely to have been sampled in Dermatology Units (p<10−6), to be seropositive for anti-PMMoV IgM antibodies (p = 0.026) and to be patients who exhibited fever, abdominal pains, and pruritus (p = 0.045, 0.038 and 0.046, respectively).
Our study identified a local source of PMMoV and linked the presence of PMMoV RNA in stool with a specific immune response and clinical symptoms. Although clinical symptoms may be imputable to another cofactor, including spicy food, our data suggest the possibility of a direct or indirect pathogenic role of plant viruses in humans.

Not so fast!

New Scientist reports suggests because the researchers looked at many possible symptoms, they would be expected to find a few that randomly appear more common in virus-positive people. In order to enter a cell and replicate, a virus must bind to a receptor on its surface, and a plant virus would be highly unlikely to recognise a receptor on a human cell.

What do you think?

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One Response to Can you catch plant viruses?

  1. Ed Rybicki says:

    Correlation does not equal causation…and I could point to a pile of other plant viruses that could easily pass through the human digestive tract intact, including the ubiquitous TMV. No, this report means nothing, without evidence that the virus in fact infects human and/or animal cells in vitro. For that matter, excised rat or mouse intestines have been used for many investigations of infection as relatively long-lived whole organ models – and could have been used here.

    Mythbusters vote = implausible

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