Taxonomy: Peach latent mosaic viroid (PLMVd) is the type species of the genus Pelamoviroid within the family Avsunviroidae of chloroplastic viroids with hammerhead ribozymes.
Physical properties: A small circular RNA of 336–351 nt (differences in size result from the absence or presence of certain insertions) adopting a branched conformation stabilized by a pseudoknot between two kissing loops. This particular conformation is most likely responsible for the insolubility of PLMVd in highly saline conditions (in which other viroids adopting a rod-like conformation are soluble). Both polarity strands are able to form hammerhead structures and to self-cleave during replication as predicted by these ribozymes.
Biological properties: Although most infections occur without conspicuous symptoms, certain PLMVd isolates induce leaf mosaics, blotches and in the most extreme cases albinism (peach calico, PC), flower streaking, delays in foliation, flowering and ripening, deformations and decolorations of fruits, which usually present cracked sutures and enlarged roundish stones, bud necrosis, stem pitting and premature ageing of the trees, which also adopt a characteristic growing pattern (open habit). The molecular determinant for PC has been mapped at a 12–14-nt insertion that folds into a hairpin capped by a U-rich loop present only in certain variants. PLMVd is horizontally transmitted by the propagation of infected buds and to a lesser extent by pruning tools and aphids, but not by pollen; the viroid is not vertically transmitted through seed.
Interesting features: This provides a suitable system for studying how a minimal non-protein-coding catalytic RNA replicates (subverting a DNA-dependent RNA polymerase to transcribe an RNA template), moves, interferes with the metabolism of its host (inciting specific symptoms and a defensive RNA silencing response) and evolves following a quasi-species model characterized by a complex spectrum of variants.