Alba Nava uses an aspirator to gather virus-carrying whiteflies that have been feeding on tomato plants at the University of Florida.
November 7, 20185:09 AM ET
Heard on Morning Edition
Jane Polston and I are walking over to some greenhouses at the University of Florida,
where she’s a professor. She wants to show me how viruses infect plants, which has been the focus of her professional life ever since she first learned about plant viruses, back in college.
“I just fell in love,” she says.
“With viruses?” I ask.
“Yeah. Isn’t that weird? That’s what scientists do. They say, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in love with this!’ ”
We step inside the greenhouse, where I see a smaller chamber with walls of fine mesh and six tomato plants inside. They don’t look too healthy. Their leaves are wilting. “This is our tomato yellow leaf-curl virus colony,” Polston says.
The tomato leaves look like they’re covered with dandruff. But when Polston reaches in and moves one of the plants, the white particles come alive. They’re tiny flies — whiteflies. They’re also infected. “Because they’re reared on these infected plants, I think probably all of them will have virus in them,” Polston says.