Eggplant latent viroid, the candidate type species for a new genus within the family Avsunviroidae (hammerhead viroids)
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Viroids, small circular RNAs that replicate independently and in most cases incite diseases in plants, are classified into the families Pospiviroidae, composed of species with a central conserved region (CCR) and without hammerhead ribozymes, and Avsunviroidae, composed of three members lacking CCR but able to self-cleave in both polarity strands through hammerhead ribozymes. Here we report the biological and molecular properties of Eggplant latent viroid (ELVd). Purified circular ELVd induces symptomless infections when inoculated into eggplant seedlings. ELVd can be transmitted horizontally and through seed. Sequencing 10 complete cDNA clones showed that ELVd is a circular RNA of 332 to 335 nucleotides with high variability. This RNA can adopt a quasi-rod-like secondary structure of minimal free energy and alternative foldings that permit formation of stable hammerhead structures in plus and minus strands. The ribozymes are active in vitro and, most likely, in vivo. Considering the ELVd properties to be intermediate between those of the two genera of family Avsunviroidae, we propose ELVd as the type species of a third genus with the name Elaviroid.