Plant Pathology Department


Date of this Version



Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 101:15 (April 13, 2004), pp.5315-17.


Green algae, in surface layers of almost every lake or stream, are some of the most common aquatic creatures. However, unbeknownst to researchers until recently, viruses that infect algae are almost as widespread. Entire ecosystems of algal hosts and their corresponding viruses lay hidden until the 1980s, when James L. Van Etten, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln), and his colleague Russ Meints discovered and began to characterize the first member of what is now a rapidly expanding family of algal viruses. Van Etten and his colleagues have continued to study these intriguing viruses, focusing on those that infect Chlorella and other similar green algae. The chlorella viruses have many unusual properties, ranging from their large genome sizes to unique modifications in their DNA.

Van Etten’s findings have earned him continuous grant support from the National Institutes of Health as well as election to fellow status in several professional societies. In 2003, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. His Inaugural Article, found on page 5318 (1), explores the electrophysiological properties of a unique potassium ion channel protein encoded by the chlorella viruses. The small size of this protein could make it a useful model for studying how more complex potassium ion channels work.