Ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs) are naturally occurring plant toxins that exhibit antiviral activity against a diverse range of plant and animal viruses. Here, the action of dianthin, a potent RIP isolated from Dianthus caryophyllus, has been exploited to engineer resistance to a plant DNA virus, African cassava mosaic Virus (ACMV), in transgenic Nicotiana benthamiana. To achieve this, dianthin has been expressed from the ACMV virion-sense promoter that is transactivated by the product of viral gene AC2. This avoids the need for constitutive expression of the RIP, facilitating the regeneration of phenotypically normal plants, and ensures transgene expression is localized to virus-infected cells. When challenged with ACMV, transgenic plants produce atypical necrotic lesions on inoculated leaves, indicative of dianthin expression, viral DNA accumulation is significantly reduced in these tissues, and plants exhibit attenuated systemic symptoms from which they recover. This phenotype holds for isolates of ACMV but not for other geminiviruses, suggesting that AC2 homologues from the latter are unable to efficiently transactivate the ACMV promoter. (C) 1996 Academic Press, Inc.