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Lesley Torrance

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Recent publications

Cell and Molecular Sciences Group Leader
+44 (0)844 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK

Lesley is Leader of the Cell and Molecular Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute and Professor of Biology at the University of St Andrews. She is currently President of the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP).

Current research interests 

Molecular biology of plant virus-host and virus-vector interactions

Aims: To understand the role and function of virus encoded proteins and their interactions in the pathogenicity and spread of plant virus diseases.

Background: Potato is an important crop in Scotland with around about 1.3 million tonnes of potatoes produced and 76,000 tonnes of seed exported to over 30 countries (outside the EU). Pests and diseases are a major constraint to the industry causing economic losses by decreased tuber yield and quality, and rejection of exports.

Soil-borne potato mop-top virus (PMTV) and aphid transmitted potyviruses (principally PVY) are economically important problems in potato seed crops that are difficult to control. No sources of resistance to PMTV have been identified in Solanum tuberosum and there are no reliable methods to control the spread of PMTV by the soil-borne plasmodiophorid vector Spongospora subterranea (that also causes powdery scab disease on potato tubers).

In addition, the application of insecticides to control the spread of aphid-borne potato potyviruses such as PVY is not effective. It is expected that aphid populations may build up earlier in the season and aphid-borne virus spread may increase because of the warmer temperatures predicted with environmental change.

Studying the molecular interactions between virus-host and virus-vector will provide a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of virus transmission and host resistance. The practical outputs of the work will be to identify new sources of resistance and more effective methods of disease control.

Current focus: Investigating a novel resistance to PVY (and other potyviruses) that we have discovered in Solanum tuberosum Group Phureja germplasm; the effect of heat stress on virus resistance and the molecular basis of mature plant resistance in potato.

Studies on the localisation and function of PMTV TGB movement proteins have revealed that PMTV infection includes a nuclear/nucleolar phase important for long distance movement in the vascular system and that the movement protein TGB1 determines nucleolar targeting and we are investigating a host factor that mediates nuclear association. In vitro culture of potato 'hairy root' systems have been established to investigate the molecular mechanism of vector transmission of PMTV.

Other research in the lab concerns working with partners in Africa to improve seed potato production systems and collaboration with Ziejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences on soil-borne viruses.


New collaboration


NSF/BBSRC Project on The spatial epidemiology of a vector-borne plant virus (PVY) with partners in USA led by Professor A Power, University of Cornell.

New developments

Mayan Gold potatoesThe potato cultivar Mayan Gold has passed national Perfomance Trials in Kenya and is approved for distribution to farmers. Mayan Gold has excellent properties that are beneficial for small holder rural farmers including PVY resistance, fast cooking time, good fry quality and good taste.

Our paper on distribution of pests and diseases in Kenyan potato growing regions has been published in Potato Research: Occurrence and distribution of potato pests and diseases in Kenya.

Strengthening Potato Production in SSA; Malawi and Kenya

Potato field trial at Bvumbwe Research StationMalawi: Working with partners Paul Demo, CIP potato seed specialist, Malawi and Felistus Chipungu, Department Agriculture Research Services, Bvumbwe Research Station.

This Scottish Government supported project aims to contribute to poverty reduction and food security through strengthening the development of sustainable potato production and marketing systems for improved productivity and trade. The main achievements to date are in renovation and upgrading facilities for mini tuber production, the introduction and evaluation of new cultivars and capacity building.

Field training in testing for bacterial wilt in MalawiIn collaboration with DARS, CIP and SASA, Edinburgh we delivered a training course in seed potato crop inspection, disease identification, and diagnostic in Dedza District of Malawi, 13–16 March 2012. Lesley Torrance and two senior potato seed inspectors (John Ellicott and Maureen McCreath) travelled from Scotland to Malawi for the training.

The course had 37 trainees from different organisations in Malawi involved in seed quality control, seed production, or in backstopping farmers. We conducted classroom and field work and surveyed local farmers’ fields. This year was a bad one for late blight with many crops destroyed or badly affected. Potato crops were also affected by PVY and bacterial wilt. We found recombinant strains of PVY in potato crops.

Scottish Government Funded Potato Project, Training Course, Near Dedza Pottery, Malawi, March 2012 from eric monaghan on Vimeo.

Kenya: The project is supported by The Monsanto Fund and we are working with partners Dr Hassan Were (Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kakamega), Dr J. Kabira, KARI Tigoni and Professor F. Olubayo (University of Nairobi).

The main outcomes of this project are:

  • A comprehensive pest and disease survey in all five major potato producing areas in Kenya.
  • Identification of areas of low aphid pressure for seed tuber multiplication.
  • Introduction of tissue culture microplants of 12 cultivars with different agronomic qualities to KARI Tigoni who have bulked up the material.

Vales Sovereign potatoes sent to KenyaAll introduced cultivars are growing well in the region. Sufficient material of three cultivars has been submitted for National Performance Trials and we are collaborating with the Kenyan National Potato Council to disseminate information and demonstrate the qualities of the new material in field trials.


  • Lukhovitskaya, N.I., Thaduri, S., Garushyants, S.K., Torrance, L., and Savenkov, E.I. 2013. Deciphering the mechanism of defective interfering RNA (DI RNA) biogenesis reveals that a viral protein and the DI RNA act antagonistically in virus infection. Journal of Virology 87. (doi:0.1128/JVI.03322-12)
  • Mitchell, C., Kalies, S., Cizmar, T., Heisterkamp, A., Torrance, L., Roberts, A., Gunn-Moore, F., Dholakia, K. 2013. Femtosecond optoinjection of intact tobacco BY-2 cells using a reconfigurable photoporation platform. PLOS One 8(11) e79235.
  • Were, H.K., Kabira, J. N., Kinyua, Z. M., Olubayo, F. M., Karinga, J.K., Aura, J., Lees, A. K., Cowan, G. H. and Torrance, L. 2013. Occurrence and distribution of potato pests and diseases in Kenya. Potato Research 56, 325-342.
  • Bragard, C., Caciagli, P.,Lemaire, O., Lopez-Moya, J.J., MacFarlane, S., Peters, D., Susi, P., Torrance, L. 2013. Status and prospects of plant virus control through interference with virus transmission. Annual Review Phytopathology 51, 177-201.
  • Birch, P.R.J., Bryan, G., Fenton, B., Gilroy, E., Hein, I., Jones, J.T., Prashar, A., Taylor, M.A., Torrance, L., Toth, I.K. 2012. Crops that feed the world. Potato: are the trends of increased global production sustainable? Food Security. (doi:10.1007/s12571-012-0220-1)
  • Cowan, G.H., Chapman, S., Ziegler, A., Roberts, A.G., Savenkov, E.I. and Torrance, L. 2012. The potato mop-top virus TGB2 protein and viral RNA associate with chloroplasts and viral infection induces inclusions in the plastids. Frontiers in Plant Science 3, 1-15.
  • Swanson, M.M., Reavy, B., Makarova, K.S., Cock, P.J., Hopkins, D.W., Torrance, L., Koonin, E.V. and Taliansky, M.E. 2012. Novel bacteriophages containing a genome of another bacteriophage within their genomes. PLoS ONE 7 (7): e40683. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040683)
  • Zakri, A.M., Ziegler, A., Commandeur, U., Fischer, R. and Torrance, L. 2012. In vivo expression and binding activity of scFv-RWAV, which recognizes the coat protein of tomato leaf curl New Delhi virus (family Geminiviridae). Archives of Virology 157, 1291-1299.
  • Newton, AC., Torrance, L., Holden, N., Toth, I.K., Cooke, D.E.L., Blok, V. and Gilroy, E.M. 2012. Climate change and defense against pathogens in plants. Advances in Applied Microbiology 81, chapter 3 pages 90-132. Eds S Sariaslani and G.M. Gadd. Academic Press.
  • Torrance, L., Wright, K.M., Crutzen, F., Cowan, G.H., Lukhovitskaya, N.I., Bragard, C. and Savenkov, E.I. 2011. Unusual features of pomoviral RNA movement. Frontiers in Microbiology published: 22 December 2011. (doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2011.00259)
  • Tilsner, J., Amari, K. and Torrance, L. 2011. Plasmodesmata viewed as specialist membrane adhesion sites. Protoplasma 248, 39-60.
  • Wright, K., Cowan, G., Lukhovitskaya, N., Tilsner, J., Roberts, A., Savenkov, E and Torrance, L. 2010. The N-terminal domain of PMTV TGB1 movement protein is required for nucleolar localization, microtubule association and long-distance movement. Molecular Plant-Microbes Interactions 23, 1486-1497.
  • Verchot-Lubicz, J., Torrance, L., Solovyev, A.G., Morozov, S.Y., Jackson, A.O. and Gilmer, D. 2010. Viral movement strategies employed by triple gene block encoding viruses. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 23, 1231-1247.
  • Tilsner, J., Cowan, G.H., Roberts, A.G., Chapman, S., Ziegler, A., Savenkov, E. and Torrance, L. 2010. Plasmodesmal targeting and intercellular movement of potato mop-top pomovirus is mediated by a membrane anchored tyrosine-based motif on the lumenal side of the endoplasmic reticulum and the C-terminal transmembrane domain in the TGB3 movement protein. Virology 402, 41-51.
  • Chichkova, N.V., Shaw, J., Galiullina, R.A., Drury, G.E., Tuzhikov, A.I., Kim, S.H., Kalkum, M., Hong, T.B., Gorshkova, E.N., Torrance, L., Vartapetian, A.B. and Taliansky, M.E. 2010. Phytaspase, a relocalisable cell death promoting plant protease with caspase specificity. EMBO Journal. (doi:10.1038/emboj.2001.1)
  • Ziegler, A., Cowan, G.H. and Torrance, L. 2009. Comparative sequence anaylsis and serological and infectivity studies indicate that cocksfoot mild mosaic virus is a member of the genus Panicovirus. Archives of Virology 154, 1545-1549.
  • Torrance, L., Lukhovitskaya, N.I., Schepetilnikov, M.V., Cowan, G.H., Ziegler, A. and Savenkov, E.I. 2009. Unusual Long-Distance Movement Strategies of Potato mop-top virus RNAs in Nicotiana benthamiana. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions 22, 381-390.
  • Swanson, M.M., Fraser, G., Daniell, T.J., Torrance, L., Gregory, P.J. and Taliansky, M.E. 2008. Viruses in soils: morphological diversity and abundance in the rhizosphere. Annals of Applied Biology 155, 51-60. (doi:10.1111/j.1744-7348.2009.00319.x)
  • Torrance, L., Cowan, G.H., Gillespie, T., Ziegler, A. and Lacomme, C. 2006. Barley stripe mosaic virus-encoded proteins triple-gene block 2 and γb localize to chloroplasts in virus-infected monocot and dicot plants, revealing hitherto-unknown roles in virus replication. Journal of General Virology 87, 2403-2411.

Selected Publications - Virus Diagnostics

  • Zakri, A.M., Ziegler, A., Torrance, L., Fischer, R. and Commandeur, U. 2010. Generation and characterization of a scFv against the purified coat protein of the geminivirus tomato leaf curl New Delhi virus. Archives of Virology. (doi: 10.1007/s00705-010-0591-6)
  • Al-Mrabeh, A., Ziegler, A., Cowan, G. and Torrance, L. 2009. A fully recombinant ELISA using in vivo biotinylated antibody fragments for the detection of potato leaf roll virus. Journal of Virological Methods 159, 200-205.
  • Torrance, L., Ziegler, A., Pittman, H., Paterson, M., Toth, R and Eggleston, I. 2006. Engineering single-chain antibodies and oriented immobilisation for biosensor and biotechnological applications. Journal of Virological Methods 134 (1-2), 164-170.
  • Torrance, L. 2005. Serological Methods. In Proceedings Bee Research and Virology in Europe (BRAVE) meeting, 24-26 April 2005, pp 109-114.
  • Jones, A.T., Cowan, G.H., McGavin, W.J., Roberts, I.M. and Torrance, L. 2004. Production and properties of monoclonal antibodies to solanum nodiflorum mottle sobemovirus. Annals of Applied Biology 146, 321-325.
  • Ziegler, A. and Torrance, L. 2002. Applications of recombinant antibodies in plant pathology. Molecular Plant Pathology 3, 401-407.
  • Ziegler, A., Cowan, G.H., Torrance, L., Ross, H.A. and Davies, H.V. 2000. Facile assessment of cDNA constructs for expression of functional antibodies in plants using the potato virus X vector. Molecular Breeding 6, 327-335.
  • Reavy, B., Ziegler, A., Diplexcito, J., Macintosh, S.M., Torrance, L. and Mayo, M. 2000. Expression of functional recombinant antibody molecules in insect cell expression systems. Protein Expression and Purification 18, 221-228.

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Registered office: The James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie Dundee DD2 5DA. Charity No SCO41796

Printed from /staff/lesley-torrance on 02/07/16 10:29:32 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.