Southern tomato virus (STV) is often found infecting healthy tomato plants (Solanum lycopersicum). In this study, we compared STV-free and STV-infected plants of cultivar M82 to determine the effect of STV infection on the host plant. STV-free plants exhibited a short and bushy phenotype, whereas STV-infected plants were taller. STV-infected plants produced more fruit than STV-free plants, and the germination rate of seeds from STV-infected plants was higher than that of seeds from STV-free plants. This phenotypic difference was also observed in progeny plants (siblings) derived from a single STV-infected plant in which the transmission rate of STV to progeny plants via the seeds was approximately 86%. These results suggest that the interaction between STV and host plants is mutualistic. Transcriptome analysis revealed that STV infection affects gene expression in the host plant and results in downregulation of genes involved in ethylene biosynthesis and signaling. STV-infected tomato plants might thus be artificially selected due to their superior traits as a crop.
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