Viruses are Finger Licking Good

Lab Note #6
Feb 01, 2015

It is Super Bowl Sunday, the deep fryer is on the counter, the chicken is soaking in buttermilk, and there is nothing left to do but think about football. This nerd loves football! My husband is from Idaho and I'm from Maine so we won't discuss which team(s) this household is rooting for.

What I'm thinking about is something I have heard people mention and cringe about before. Quarterbacks and there tendency to lick their fingers to help them with grip. In a country that loves cleanliness we of course think of germs when we see things like this. This note is about what some of those viruses may hypothetically be and how my project relates.

Of course we all immediately think of viruses and bacteria that can hurt humans, but really we are surrounded by so many viruses everyday that we don't even think about because they don't infect us, such as plant viruses. You may not walk through your yard thinking, hmm I wonder what viruses can infect my shrubs or grass, but I do. Just because they can't get us sick doesn't mean they don't effect us indirectly, for example, raising food prices when an agricultural pathogen arises.

The Geminiviridae are a family of viruses that infect plants and I have found several new viruses in my study that are closely related to, or are themselves members of, the Geminiviridae family. We currently know very little about most plant viruses (something I'm hoping to change with my study), but one interesting fact is that it is quite common for a plant virus to not cause a noticeable disease in their host. So even though a plant is infected with one or more viruses, it can appear completely healthy. Because plants can be infected with a virus without showing symptoms, and if a plant doesn't appear sick we aren't likely to treat them for viruses, if any of the grass on the football field is infected with a Geminiviridae then the quarterbacks could be consuming them with every lick.

Here is a plant that is visibly infected with a geminivirus.

We all know that there are bacteria everywhere, including in whatever fertilizer they likely spray over the field to keep that grass beautiful and lush, but did you know that there are a ton of viruses that infect bacteria? They are called bacteriophage and I study a family of them called Microviridae. They are the largest viruses in my study, but relatively small in the viral world, having only 11 genes. To put that into perspective, it is thought that 15 different genes dictate what color our eyes are. One trait controlled by 15 genes in us, compared to 11 genes total for these viruses! Anyway, the Microviridae can be found in manure and all kinds of places where bacteria are found and therefore are probably being ingested by our favorite quarterbacks. Before antibiotics came about researchers were using bacteriophage to treat infections and with antibiotic resistance on the rise it is important to learn more about these bacterial viruses and how they might help us fight our infections.

And lastly, an easy joke. One of the families of viruses I study is the Circoviridae, and the most known viruses in this family are the porcine circoviruses. So...Mmm, Mmm pig skin! I didn't say the joke would be funny did I? It is highly unlikely a porcine circovirus would survive the tanning process and whatever else goes into the making of a football, but now you know about a virus that infects our beloved pigs, besides the flu. So if you care about keeping our pigs healthy so we always have bacon and football, and bacon wrapped football foods, then you should really check out my project and help me learn more about the viruses that surround us.

Please check out and consider backing my project to help learn more about agricultural pests, and viruses that could help us develop new ways to treat bacterial infections!

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