Author: Abby Beissinger

What is a virus?

Given the coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to do a mini-series about viruses to share a little more on these infectious agents. Check back often for more posts in this series.

A virus has a very simple makeup. It is just a piece of DNA or RNA, a protein coat, and in some cases a fatty (lipid) layer. The protein coat provides protection for the piece of genetic information (DNA or RNA), and can code for different functions when the virus infects a host organism.

SARS-CoV-2, infects people and bats. Causes the COVID-19 disease (Alissa Eckert; Dan Higgins)

Viruses are considered neither alive nor dead. Viruses do not consist of cells or have any components to carry out basic functions on their own. They rely on the cell functions of their host to replicate. They hijack their host’s cells to operate in a way that allows the virus to thrive.

For this exact reason, viruses have a biological incentive to keep their hosts alive. If their hosts die, the virus can no longer replicate. Viable virus particles can exist on a surface, such as a table. But without a host, the virus can not cause disease or infection.

Ranavirus, a genus of viruses that infects fish, reptiles, and amphibians (Australian Animal Health Laboratory)

The first virus to be crystallized and therefore each of its parts were able to be studied, was actually a plant virus, Tobacco mosaic virus. Rosalind Franklin made this discovery in 1955. Since then, thousands of new viruses have been described.

Tobacco mosaic virus, infects thousands of plant species (M. Zailtin)

**Lab Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic**

Lab Operations

March 23: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab will temporarily suspend accepting physical plant and insect samples from mail or drop-off submissions. Laboratory diagnosis of plants will be unavailable until further notice, but we will still accept digital submissions during this time. 

Digital sample submissions

During this time, submit images of samples for digital diagnostics. This service will remain free.

  1. Image identification. Send images, description of symptoms or problems, and any other relevant information/questions to
  2. Instagram: @Sick__Plants. Send a plant health related question, photo, or video to our plant diagnostician on Instagram. To use this service, you’ll need to have Instagram downloaded on your mobile device or tablet.
  3. Virtual consultation. Email if you would like to set up a video call to discuss plant health issues with our diagnostician.

    Diagnostician Out of the Office until 3/13

    Our diagnostician will be out of the office to attend the Northeast National Plant Diagnostic Network Meeting and the Northeastern Division-American Phytopathological Society Meeting until 3/12. Diagnoses on samples sent during this time will be delayed, and will resume on 3/13. We appreciate your understanding.

    For urgent matters, contact the Home & Garden Education Center ( or your UConn IPM Extension Educator (

    Now Announcing: New Hot Water Seed Treatment Service

    Over the past year, we’ve heard from growers and others that a UConn-based hot water seed treatment service is among the top agricultural priorities in the state. Well, we listened! Thanks to funding support from the New England Vegetable & Berry Growers Association and UConn’s Grant for Innovative Programming in Extension, the UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab in collaboration with the UConn Extension Vegetable Program is now offering hot water seed treatment for vegetable seed!


    Background on hot water seed treatment

    There are several plant diseases caused by fungal, bacterial, oomycete and viral pathogens that can persist on or inside seeds. At germination, infested seeds can infect the resulting plants that grow, and cause early infection. While chlorine and other chemical seed treatments can be effective at removing pathogens that adhere to the seed surface, these treatments are not able to penetrate the seed coat and eliminate pathogens that are present inside. As a result, hot water seed treatment has emerged as one of the best known methods to manage seed-borne pathogens, because of the treatment’s ability to kill pathogens that exist both on the outside and inside of seeds.

    It is important to note that while hot water seed treatment can eliminate pathogens on and in seeds, it neither protects nor guarantees that plants will remain disease free throughout the growing season. Hot water treatment will enable you to start with clean seed, and strong cultural management practices (i.e. crop rotation, field sanitation, scouting, etc.) will still be important to implement on plants that grew from hot water treated seed.

    Complete list of crops eligible for UConn’s Hot Water Seed Treatment

    Broccoli Coriander/Cilantro Onion
    Brussel Sprouts Cress Parsley
    Cabbage Eggplant Pepper
    Carrot Kale Radish
    Cauliflower Kohlrabi Rutabaga
    Celeriac Lettuce Shallot
    Celery Mint Spinach
    Chinese Cabbage Mustard Tomato
    Collards New Zeland Spinach Turnip

    How it works

    The treatment process is fairly simple. We follow established and tested protocols for hot water treating each species of vegetable seed to ensure the highest quality. Seed undergoes a pre-warming process in a controlled water bath at 100°F, then is subjected to treatment in another water bath at 118-125°F for 15 to 30 minutes depending on the crop. Seed is immediately air dried, carefully packaged, and shipped back to the grower at the address they provide.

    Treatment fees

    0.01-1 oz of seed per cultivar submitted: $6

    0.01-13 oz of seed for shipping & handling to return treated seeds to client: $6   

    For example: you submit 0.6 oz of cherry tomato seed ($6), 2.3 oz of kale seed ($18), and 1.1 oz of beefsteak tomato seed ($12). Your total seed treatment cost is $36, with a shipping cost of $6 (4 oz of seed ). Total cost is $42.

    We accept check, credit/debit card, or money order for payment. To learn more about the fee structure, click here.


    To learn more and download a submission form:

    Learn more about hot water seed treatment here.

    Download a submission form here.

    Attention UConn Undergrads!

    Are you a current UConn undergrad interested in plant pathology and horticulture, and looking to get more experience? Looking for a paid internship this summer? Apply for the Plant Diagnostic & Horticulture Internship! Check out the position description below.

    To apply: visit Applications are due March 1st at 11:55pm. Contact Abby Beissinger, with any questions.

    New Vegetable Production Certificate Course

    UConn's Vegetable Extension Program is launching a new Vegetable Production Certificate Course this spring! Our Diagnostician, Abby Beissinger, is one of the instructors for the course. Using a hybrid format, the course will integrate online and in-person components  for new and beginning farmers. For 2020, the course has a special introductory fee, so take advantage of the opportunity!

    To learn more, visit for the course description. To register online, visit

    Spotted lanternfly reported in Connecticut

    On October 15, the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station and the USDA APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine Division reported a positive identification of an adult spotted lanternfly, (Lycoma delicatula), found in Southbury, CT . The spotted lanternfly is an invasive plant hopper that was first reported in the USA in Berks County, Pennsylvania in 2014.

    The spotted lanternfly poses a risk to grape and tree fruit industries in Connecticut. If you suspect you have found a spotted lanternfly, send an email with images to Save the specimen until you’ve received an identification, and then destroy it.

    Spotted Laternfly

    For more information and to see the press release, visit: