FMV elimination through meristem culture

jspenApril 25, 2013

Just wondering if anyone on this forum has invested the time and expense necessary to produce FMV free plants using meristem culture. I realize many on this forum are not concerned with this disease, and that's fine, but I prefer disease free figs if possible.

I don't believe all figs are infected. I purchase a Battaglia Green from Paradise Nursery in 2006 that was virus free I believe. It has since become infected with FMV from an adjacent tree purchased from a different vendor. The tree still does well and I don't see any reduction in fruiting.

I would appreciate a response from anyone who may have attempted this. It would be nice to have this option to clean up some of the cultivars that do not handle FMV well. I have access to property isolated enough from other figs to make the re-infection of clean plants unlikely.

Thanks, jspen in southern MD

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I used to be concerned about FMV. But it is truly everywhere. If someone growing tomatoes has MV and an insect bites that plant and then it bites your fig tree your tree now has FMV. You can spend all the time and money in the world fighting it and have an FMV Free garden. The week after a wind storm blows insects into your garden from 10 miles away and Pow!!! All of your trees are now infected.

My time and money is worth more to me than to spend it fighting something that cannot be won. Now if you are growing these plants inside one of the Biospheres that’s something different entirely.

Keep in mind. Basically all cuttings from UC Davis, Encanto Farms and Dave Wilson Nursery which sends trees to nurseries all over the country are infected. I have received cuttings and or trees from all of these sources and so have millions and millions of others. They are the best of the best with the best varieties. If someone miles away from has received trees or cuttings from these sources or from someone else who has. Your trees could become infected any time due to a simple random insect bite.

I would say good luck but I'm not a cruel a person. Instead I will say.... Don't bother wasting your time on impossibly lost causes. Find and do something in which the time and money you spend on it will really make a difference in the life of you or someone else. Put your time, money and heart into it and you and others will be better off for it.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 3:33AM
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Very well said!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 3:20PM
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Thanks a lot for your candid statement. I certainly will consider your advice.
I'm a little puzzled by some of your statements, and now have more questions/statements about the disease than before.

1. What is the likelihood FMV is carried by tomatoes? I was under the understanding that mosaic virus in tomatoes was usually tobacco mosaic virus. This virus is seldom transferred by insects, and usually transferred by poor sanitation of seedling flats or other reused materials. I'm rather familiar with TMV.

2. If I were to assume TMV can infect figs, or FMV can be carried by tomatoes, why did my initial fig plantings from Paradise Nursery grow for 4 years and not become contaminated as you propose? It's obvious to me the contamination came from bringing infected figs into the orchard. Common sense would dictate that the more closely infected plants are to healthy plants, the greater the chance of infection.

You certainly are correct that insects carrying viruses can be blown in and infect plants. This was an issue in 1999 in southern MD with the introduction of tomato spotted wilt virus, carried by thrips. It cuased significant damage to tobacco and vegetable crops in this area. It continues to cause severe economic damage every year to tobacco, peanuts and vegetables in Georgia and South Carolina.

Apparently there is some evidence that multiple viruses can infect figs and weaken the tree more than a single strain of FMV. Perhaps us fig collectors by trading figs amongst ourselves are doing an excellent job of thoroughly contaminating our plants.

3. Paradise Nursery, now out of business, worked very hard to reduce the chances of mosaic spreading in there nursery. The owners were held in very high esteem on this forum for their quality plants. If they preferred virus free plants, that gives some degree of validity to my desire for virus free figs as well.

4. What are the vectors of FMV in the mid Atlantic? I suspect some species of leaf hopper transferred the virus in my orchard. Certainly there are likely several insects that feed on figs that could complete the transfer. Any ideas?

Finally, I've been interested in meristem culture for some time. Perhaps playing with figs would be a food excuse to start. This brings my post full circle with the question, has anyone tried this with figs?

Thanks so much for the input thus far!


    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 9:02PM
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jspen jspen you are asking questions for which there are currently no clear cut answers. At this time the sheer number of university abstracts published on the subject is enough to boggle the mind. Not to mention the endless discussions about them. I gave up keeping up on them a couple years ago.

This much we do know.

What we as lay people call FMV is not. Its only the visual expression of a virus. In fact its not just one virus but many. Apparently there are many viruses that produce the same visual expression. Each can be spread to plants in different ways. Some by insects, some even through bird droppings.

We also know that plants can have the virus and not exhibit any visual characteristics of infection. The only reliable honest to goodness way to know if a plant or tree is infected is by looking into that particular plants RNA. Then you would need to continually test the plant to be sure it had not become infected since the last test.

Since visual cues of infection in infected tissues is so idiosyncratic. There are a myriad of theories that have yet to be proofed.

One thing is for sure. Without continual RNA testing it is impossible to know with any certainty that any tree or plant is not infected. With what testing has already been done at the university level it appears that these viruses are prevalent and in fact endemic. It is more likely that any given plant is infected than not. In other words if you assume every fig tree you see is infected you will be right more often than not.

With what little we already know its obvious that as lay people we cannot effectively fight FMV. We don’t even know if the trees in our yard have it or not.

Ask yourself these simple questions.

How can you fight something you cannot see? Something that can infect your trees without you even knowing it? Something that more likely than not my trees already have and I have no way of knowing?

Again; Nearly every nursery and every fig collection has received trees and or cuttings from three main sources. All of which have long been infected. Not that they are the in any way responsible or the original source. Just stating fact. Not to mention all the collectors selling and trading trees and cuttings that originated from those sources.

In closing. You cannot fight something you cannot see. It is utterly futile to fight something that spreads so easily. Someday people much smarter than I with lots of funding will find all the answers you are looking for after dedicating a lifetime research to the subject. When they find all those answers there is still a good chance they will find out its incurable and inevitable. I just don’t want to be the person spending all my waking hours trying to find out. Why would I? Most trees produce well in spite of the virus. Others appear only to be affected for a short time. Other varieties appear to show no signs even when RNA shows they are infected. Given all this I choose to spend my time thinking about other things. If or when a cure comes I’m sure someone will tell me about it. Perhaps that person will be you. One thing for sure. I’m certainly not going to pull anymore trees over it. Trying to fight something I can’t see ludicrous; tantamount to jousting at windmills. A blind baboon brain surgeon with one hand tied behind his back would have a better chance of success.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 1:05AM
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Great post! Thanks. Seems you have come to terms with this problem. As you say, it would take considerable time to accomplish what I've proposed. I think meristem culture could be accomplished without great cost, the high cost would be associated with proving a specimen virus free through the RNA testing you mentioned above.

What you said about multiple viruses causing symptoms really does make sense. This could possibly explain why some people have cultivars that show the disease and others do not. Virus complexes could explain the variable infections for different sources of the same cultivar.

I'm still rather skeptical of how easily the virus could be re-introduced. As I've said, I have access to isolated property and feel keeping figs clean from re-infection, except for acts of God, is possible.

A cautionary note. My recent concern over FMV was prompted not only because of the infection in my orchard, but because of another fig grower that's has a Marseilles Black VS tree that he said was very much affected by the disease. I gave him one of my second year plants that seems more healthy, though I suspect could contain the virus. This variety was once assumed very resistant to the symptoms. Must be an additional virus in that cultivar from that source.

So I continue to pose the question, has anyone used meristem to propagate figs, or even basic tissue culture to propagate figs?

Thanks so much for the info thisisme, what are the standout varieties you have that easily shake off mosiac?

I think this subject would be a good retirement project! In that case, I'll report my findings back to the fig forum in about 30 years.

Hope to see more post regarding FMV and meristem culture!



    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 7:44AM
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Hi Jspen,
My Paradise nursery Hardy Chicago and Ediblelandscaoing's Sals's do excellent with FMV along with others i grow those 2 only display a mishapens leave here and there and i have to search plant to even notice them.
It was said at one point Paradise nursery destroyed many if not all the fig plants when they discovered that they had FMV. I do not know when that occured and what happened later on though.

Tissue culture does not cure the disease from past readings years ago and the owner of Kitchen Tissue Culture Kits i spoke with years ago also said the same.

Meristem culture does being done with special microscope under strict sterile lab conditions.
I do not think its costs are cheap but never looked into at when i was pondering and thinking about the idea years ago.

In the end i felt similar to Thisisme post its just not worth it for me on a personal level .
If i had it done with my current plants they would have to be tested frequently and also every fig plant brought into yard from other sources would have to have the same procedure and i feel the costs would far exceed my budget.

All my plants do excellent despite FMV and produce well .


    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 1:06PM
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You have to pardon my lack of knowledge what is FMV? To me it is either Fair Market Value or Full Motion Video. I grow fig trees since 10 years and now has 22 producing trees but also I have 10 kids and grand kids so the production is barely enough. and I never heard about that disease.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 2:47AM
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lukeott(7 south jersey)

jspen, I will look up this meristem culture, because I have never heard of it. I think if you have the know how to do something in the area we all would like to hear results. I could be wrong(often are) but thinking the Battaglia tree came from Your area and maybe Paradise Nursery. Martin, from what i know Paradise Nursery didn't destroy all their trees. Matter of fact, I receive quite a few cuttings from Sybil off her trees just last year. Sybil had a fund raiser and if you donated she sent cutting as a gift.
As for fmv, I've eliminated most of my trees that showed heavy sign's and have never seen any sign's of it ever spreading from one tree to the next.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 7:56PM
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Short answer no I have not attempted this, but have looked into it a little. Meristem culture involves stimulating rapid growth of the infected fig tree and removal of the heart of a growing bud under semisterile conditions using a dissecting microscope as the center of this bud typically contains only low levels or no virus. This fragment of the bud is then grown in artificial media (typically Murashige and Skoogs). Some of the cultured meristems will be free of FMV (an Emravirus). Chances are in order to determine which are virus free, you will have to grow them up isolated from each other and PCR test them to detect which ones are virus free. Then you will have to keep your virus free figs separate from possibly infected figs so an infected fig mite doesn't infect your virus free tree. If you had the ability to only allow virus free figs into an isolated environment, you could produce FMV free trees for distribution. If you had access to a dissection microscope, the tissue culture segment would not be that expensive. The need to check each tissue culture tree for virus would be moderately expensive and although PCR has literally been done in a teacup, for consistent results it takes expensive equipment, primers, enzyme mixes, gels, gel electrophoresis, and gel documentation equipment. Generally this part would be out of the reach of the average home tissue culture hobbyist.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 10:04PM
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treehugger2012 FMV is Fig Mosaic Virus.

I used to pull any and every tree at the first sign of FMV. I tossed out lots and lots of expensive varieties when the first leaf showed a sign. NOT anymore. I hate to think about all the money I wasted.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 12:52PM
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Short answer FMV= Fig Mosiac Virus. Complicated disease and some trees almost ignore it, and others are very crippled by it. C.H.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:44AM
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