W. Allen Miller and Steve Whitham, researchers at Iowa State University, are engineering ways for insect-transmitted plant viruses to deliver genes that will aid mature corn plants during times of stress, such as drought and disease.
The viruses would be introduced to the corn plants through the bite of aphids, insects which feed on the sap of plants. As the viruses infect the corn plants, they activate genes in the corn that would help the plants fight those stresses. Such a process could be deployed much faster than the use of traditional artificial selection to develop this resistance.
Manufacturing this method into the commercial world will require years of testing for safety and environmental purposes. Farmers shouldn't expect to make use of the research any time soon. Although, simply studying in this manner will provide new insight into the relationships between viruses, the insects that spread them, and their effect on plants. Read more about this promising possibility at Science Daily.