Background: The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon increased the concern about the potential for terrorist attacks on many vulnerable sectors of the US, including agriculture. The concentrated nature of crops, easily obtainable biological agents, and highly detrimental impacts make agroterrorism a potential threat. Although procedures for an effective criminal investigation and attribution following such an attack are available, important enhancements are still needed, one of which is the capability for fine discrimination among pathogen strains. The purpose of this study was to develop a molecular typing assay for use in a forensic investigation, using Wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV) as a model plant virus.
Method: This genotyping technique utilizes single base primer extension to generate a genetic fingerprint. Fifteen single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the coat protein and helper component-protease genes were selected as the genetic markers for this assay. Assay optimization and sensitivity testing was conducted using synthetic targets. WSMV strains and field isolates were collected from regions around the world and used to evaluate the assay for discrimination. The assay specificity was tested against a panel of near-neighbors consisting of genetic and environmental near-neighbors.
Result: Each WSMV strain or field isolate tested produced a unique SNP fingerprint, with the exception of three isolates collected within the same geographic location that produced indistinguishable fingerprints. The results were consistent among replicates, demonstrating the reproducibility of the assay. No SNP fingerprints were generated from organisms included in the near-neighbor panel, suggesting the assay is specific for WSMV. Using synthetic targets, a complete profile could be generated from as low as 7.15 fmoles of cDNA.
Conclusion: The molecular typing method presented is one tool that could be incorporated into the forensic science toolbox after a thorough validation study. This method incorporates molecular biology techniques that are already well established in research and diagnostic laboratories, allowing for an easy introduction of this method into existing laboratories.
- single nucleotide polymorphisms
- plant pathology
- microbial forensics
- Single base primer extension
- SNaPshot Multiplex Kit