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Department of Plant Sciences

Virus attracts bumblebees to infected plants by changing scent

A collaborative study between the groups of John Carr, Beverley Glover and Nik Cunniffe has found that cucumber mosaic virus alters the tomato plants it infects, causing changes to air-borne chemicals - the scent - emitted by the plants. Bees can smell these subtle changes, and glasshouse experiments have shown that bumblebees prefer infected plants over healthy ones. It is suggested that by indirectly manipulating bee behaviour to improve pollination of infected plants by changing their scent, the virus is effectively paying its host back. If viruses do this under natural condition to wild plants, this may also benefit the virus and its susceptible hosts: helping susceptible plants to reproduce decreases the chances of virus-resistant plant strains emerging. The new study is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens ( Understanding the smells that attract bees, and reproducing these artificially by using similar chemical blends, may enable growers to protect or even enhance yields of bee-pollinated crops. Carr, Glover and Cunniffe are all members of the Cambridge Global Food Security Initiative at Cambridge, which is involved in addressing the issues surrounding food security at local, national and international scales ( The use of state-of-the-art experimental glasshouses at Cambridge Botanic Garden, and equipment at Cambridge and Rothamsted, was funded by the Leverhulme Trust with additional funding from the BBSRC.