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Scientific classification
(unranked): Subviral agents
(unranked): Viroid


Viroids are plant pathogens(except for the human pathogen hepatitis D virus, which is similar to viroids.[1]) that consist of a short stretch (a few hundred nucleobases of highly complementary, circular, single-stranded RNA.[2] Viroid genomes are extremely small in size, ranging from 246 to 467 nucleobases; they thus consist of fewer than 10,000 atoms.[3] In comparison, the genome of the smallest known viruses capable of causing an infection by themselves are around 2,000 nucleobases in size.

Viroids were discovered,initially characterized, and named by Theodor Otto Diener, plant pathologist at the Agricultural Research Service in Maryland, in 1971.[4][5][6]

Viroid RNA does not code for any protein.[7] Their replication mechanism uses RNA polymerase II, a host cell enzyme normally associated with synthesis of messenger RNA from DNA, which instead catalyzes "rolling circle" synthesis of new RNA using the viroid's RNA as template. Some viroids are ribozymes, having catalytic properties which allow self-cleavage and ligation of unit-size genomes from larger replication intermediates.[8]

The first viroid to be identified was Potato spindle tuber viroid (PSTVd). Some 33 species have been identified.

With Diener’s 1979 hypothesis[9] that viroids may represent “living relics” of a hypothetical non-cellular RNA world, viroids have attained significance far beyond plant virology to evolutionary biology by representing the most plausible molecules capable of explaining crucial intermediate steps in the evolution of life from inanimate matter to life as we know it today. While Diener’s hypothesis was dormant for 25 years, it has recently been resurrected, and its plausibility further enhanced by additional characteristics of viroids and viroid-like satellite viruses.[10]


Viroids and RNA silencing[edit]

There has long been confusion over how viroids are able to induce symptoms in plants without encoding any protein products within their sequences. Evidence now suggests that RNA silencing is involved in the process. First, changes to the viroid genome can dramatically alter its virulence.[10] This reflects the fact that any siRNAs produced would have less complementary base pairing with target messenger RNA. Secondly, siRNAs corresponding to sequences from viroid genomes have been isolated from infected plants.[11] Finally, transgenic expression of the noninfectious hpRNA of potato spindle tuber viroid develops all the corresponding viroid-like symptoms.[12]

This evidence indicates that when viroids replicate via a double stranded intermediate RNA, they are targeted by a dicer enzyme and cleaved into siRNAs that are then loaded onto the RNA-induced silencing complex. The viroid siRNAs actually contain sequences capable of complementary base pairing with the plant's own messenger RNAs and induction of degradation or inhibition of translation is what causes the classic viroid symptoms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rocheleau L, Pelchat M (2006). "The Subviral RNA Database: a toolbox for viroids, the hepatitis delta virus and satellite RNAs research". BMC Microbiol. 6: 24. doi:10.1186/1471-2180-6-24. PMC 1413538. PMID 16519798. 
  2. ^ Zimmer, Carl (September 25, 2014). "A Tiny Emissary From the Ancient Past". New York Times.  Unknown parameter |access date= ignored (|accessdate= suggested) (help)
  3. ^ Wolfram, Stephen. "A New Kind of Science". A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Science.  Unknown parameter |access date= ignored (|accessdate= suggested) (help)
  4. ^ Diener TO (August 1971). "Potato spindle tuber "virus". IV. A replicating, low molecular weight RNA". Virology 45 (2): 411–28. doi:10.1016/0042-6822(71)90342-4. PMID 5095900. 
  5. ^ "ARS Research Timeline - Tracking the Elusive Viroid". 2006-03-02. Retrieved 2007-07-18. 
  6. ^ Discovery of Viroids
  7. ^ Tsagris EM, de Alba AE, Gozmanova M, Kalantidis K (September 2008). "Viroids". Cell. Microbiol. 10 (11): 2168–79. doi:10.1111/j.1462-5822.2008.01231.x. PMID 18764915. 
  8. ^ Daròs JA, Elena SF, Flores R (2006). "Viroids: an Ariadne's thread into the RNA labyrinth". EMBO Rep. 7 (6): 593–8. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400706. PMC 1479586. PMID 16741503. 
  9. ^ a b c d Brian W. J. Mahy, Marc H. V. Van Regenmortel (ed.). Desk Encyclopedia of Plant and Fungal Virology. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0123751485. 
  10. ^ Elizabeth Dickson, Hugh D. Robertson, C. L. Niblett, R. K. Horst & Milton Zaitlin (1979). "Minor differences between nucleotide sequences of mild and severe strains of potato spindle tuber viroid". Nature 277 (5691): 60–62. doi:10.1038/277060a0. 
  11. ^ Papaefthimiou I, Hamilton A, Denti M, Baulcombe D, Tsagris M, Tabler M (2001). "Replicating potato spindle tuber viroid RNA is accompanied by short RNA fragments that are characteristic of post-transcriptional gene silencing". Nucleic Acids Res. 29 (11): 2395–400. doi:10.1093/nar/29.11.2395. PMC 55696. PMID 11376158. 
  12. ^ Wang MB, Bian XY, Wu LM, et al. (2004). "On the role of RNA silencing in the pathogenicity and evolution of viroids and viral satellites". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101 (9): 3275–80. doi:10.1073/pnas.0400104101. PMC 365780. PMID 14978267. 

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