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Annu Rev Phytopathol. 2010;48:437-55. doi: 10.1146/annurev-phyto-073009-114242.

Cowpea mosaic virus: the plant virus-based biotechnology workhorse.

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Department of Biological Chemistry, John Innes Centre, Norwich NR4 7UH,United Kingdom.


In the 50 years since it was first described, Cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) has become one of the most intensely studied plant viruses. Research in the past 15 to 20 years has shifted from studying the underlying genetics and structure of the virus to focusing on ways in which it can be exploited in biotechnology. This work led first to the use of virus particles to present peptides, then to the creation of a variety of replicating virus vectors and finally to the development of a highly efficient protein expression system that does not require viral replication. The circle has been completed by the use of the latter system to create empty particles for peptide presentation and other novel uses. The history of CPMV in biotechnology can be likened to an Ouroborus, an ancient symbol depicting a snake or dragon swallowing its own tail, thus forming a circle.

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