Virus that combats potato blight named after Cork

A new group of helpful viruses which tackle the diseases which blight potato crops have been named Cork.
Virus that combats potato blight named after Cork
Researcher Colin Buttimer, discovered the new subgroup of virus, which have been named Corkvirinae. pictured is Prof Aidan Coffey and former CIT PhD student Colin Buttimer.
Researcher Colin Buttimer, discovered the new subgroup of virus, which have been named Corkvirinae. pictured is Prof Aidan Coffey and former CIT PhD student Colin Buttimer.

A new group of helpful viruses which tackle the diseases which blight potato crops have been named Cork.

Colin Buttimer, the 31 year-old researcher who discovered 'Corkvirinae', said he is delighted to name the new viruses after where they were found.

But more importantly, he said they have the potential for controlling two diseases which can wipe out potato crops. The diseases cost Dutch farmers some €30m annually.

“There is a view in the general public, especially after the last few months, that there are negative connotations associated with the word virus,” Mr Buttimer said.

“But some can play really beneficial roles in human health. And these viruses can prevent bacteria from spreading in potato crops.”

Mr Buttimer, from near Clonakilty, was trying to find natural virus predators of bacteria, known as bacteriophages, while pursuing a PhD at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). Bacteriophages are so tiny, they are measured in nanometres - one billionth of a metre.

He was looking specifically for the natural virus predator of Pectobacterium, which causes soft rot and blackleg in potatoes.

He found some in soil and potato samples taken from farms in West Cork, and after analysing their DNA under an electron microscope, he thought he'd found something new.

The international body which categorises viruses agreed and the honour of naming the sub-group, or taxonomic subfamily, fell to his and his PhD supervisor, Professor Aidan Coffey at CIT.

The name, Corkvirinae, has now been ratified by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

Prof Coffey is keeping them safe in a virus bank in the hope that their potential as a bio-control system can be explored further.

Mr Buttimer is now working on a post-doctoral fellowship in UCC’s APC Centre where he is examining the effects of good viruses on the bacteria in our gut.

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