Viroids are plant pathogens: small, single-stranded, circular RNA particles that are much simpler than a virus. They do not have a capsid or outer envelope, but like viruses can reproduce only within a host cell. Viroids do not, however, manufacture any proteins, and they only produce a single, specific RNA molecule. Human diseases caused by viroids have yet to be identified.
Viroids are known to infect plants (see the figure below) and are responsible for crop failures and the loss of millions of dollars in agricultural revenue each year. Some of the plants they infect include potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, chrysanthemums, avocados, and coconut palms.
Virology is the study of viruses, and a virologist is an individual trained in this discipline. Training in virology can lead to many different career paths. Virologists are actively involved in academic research and teaching in universitys and medical schools. Some virologists treat patients or are involved in the generation and production of vaccines. They might participate in epidemiologic studies (see the figure below) or become science writers, to name just a few possible careers.
If you think you may be interested in a career in virology, find a mentor in the field. Many large medical centers have departments of virology, and smaller hospitals usually have virology labs within their microbiology departments. Volunteer in a virology lab for a semester or work in one over the summer. Discussing the profession and getting a first-hand look at the work will help you decide whether a career in virology is right for you. The American Society of Virology’s website is a good resource for information regarding training and careers in virology.