Soybean mosaic virus (SMV), a member of the family Potyviridae, is an important viral pathogen affecting soybean production in Korea. Variations in helper component proteinase (HC-Pro) sequences and the pathogenicity of SMV samples from seven Korean provinces were compared with those of previously characterized SMV isolates from China, Korea and the United States. Phylogenetic analysis separated 16 new Korean SMV isolates into two groups. Fourteen of the new Korean SMV samples belonged to group II and were very similar to U.S. strain SMV G7 and Chinese isolate C14. One isolate in group II, A297-13, differed at three amino acid positions (L54F, N286D, D369N) in the HC-Pro coding sequence from severe isolates and SMV 413, showed very weak silencing suppressor activity, and produced only mild symptoms in soybean. To test the role of each amino acid substitution in RNA silencing and viral RNA accumulation, a series of point mutations was constructed. Substitution of N for D at position 286 in HC-Pro of SMV A297-12 significantly reduced silencing suppression activity. When the mutant HC-Pro of A297-13 was introduced into an infectious clone of SMV 413, accumulation of viral RNA was reduced to less than 3 % of the level of SMV 413 containing HC-Pro of A297-12 at 10 days post-inoculation (dpi) but increased to 40 % of SMV 413(HC-Pro A297-12) at 40 dpi. At 50 dpi RNA accumulation of SMV 413(HC-Pro A297-13) was similar to that of SMV 413(HC-Pro A297-12). However, at 50 dpi, the D at position 286 of HC-Pro in SMV 413(HC-Pro A297-13) was found to have reverted to N. The results showed that 1) a naturally occurring mutation in HC-Pro significantly reduced silencing suppression activity and accumulation of transgene and viral RNAs, and 2) that there was strong selection for revision to wild type when the mutation was introduced into an infectious clone of SMV.
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