Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) is a begomovirus transmitted exclusively by the whitefly Bemisia tabaci in a persistent, circulative manner. Replication of TYLCV in its vector remains controversial, and thus far, the virus has been considered to be nonpropagative. Following 8 h of acquisition on TYLCV-infected tomato plants or purified virions and then transfer to non-TYLCV-host cotton plants, the amounts of virus inside whitefly adults significantly increased (>2-fold) during the first few days and then continuously decreased, as measured by the amounts of genes on both virus DNA strands. Reported alterations in insect immune and defense responses upon virus retention led us to hypothesize a role for the immune response in suppressing virus replication. After virus acquisition, stress conditions were imposed on whiteflies, and the levels of three viral gene sequences were measured over time. When whiteflies were exposed to TYLCV and treatment with two different pesticides, the virus levels continuously increased. Upon exposure to heat stress, the virus levels gradually decreased, without any initial accumulation. Switching of whiteflies between pesticide, heat stress, and control treatments caused fluctuating increases and decreases in virus levels. Fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis confirmed these results and showed virus signals inside midgut epithelial cell nuclei. Combining the pesticide and heat treatments with virus acquisition had significant effects on fecundity. Altogether, our results demonstrate for the first time that a single-stranded DNA plant virus can replicate in its hemipteran vector.
IMPORTANCE Plant viruses in agricultural crops are of great concern worldwide. Many of them are transmitted from infected to healthy plants by insects. Persistently transmitted viruses often have a complex association with their vectors; however, most are believed not to replicate within these vectors. Such replication is important, as it contributes to the virus's spread and can impact vector biology. Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV) is a devastating begomovirus that infects tomatoes. It is persistently transmitted by the whitefly Bemisia tabaci but is believed not to replicate in the insect. To demonstrate that TYLCV is, in fact, propagative (i.e., it replicates in its insect host), we hypothesized that insect defenses play a role in suppressing virus replication. We thus exposed whitefly to pesticide and heat stress conditions to manipulate its physiology, and we showed that under such conditions, the virus is able to replicate and significantly influence the insect's fecundity.