Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genetic Defenders Protect Crops From Fungal Disease

Date:
November 21, 2005
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
A handful of genetic defenders cooperate to protect Arabidopsis cells against powdery mildew disease, according to a new study from the Carnegie Institution and the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding. Powdery mildew, a common fungal infection, attacks more than 9,000 species of plants including barley, wheat, and horticultural plants such as roses and cucumbers. The discovery could help combat fungal parasites that devastate crops and cost growers billions of dollars in pesticides every year.

Arabidopsis plants inoculated with Erysiphe pisi fungal spores are shown here. From left to right, plants with no mutations (WT), a disabled PEN2 gene, disabled PAD4 and SAG101 genes, and all three disabled genes together are increasingly vulnerable to the fungus. This last variant is the most susceptible to infection; it allowed E pisi to proliferate as well as it does on pea plants, its normal host.
Credit: Image s courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science, November 18, 2005, issue.

Like waves of soldiers guarding a castle gate, multiple genetic defenders cooperate to protect plant cells against powdery mildew disease, according to a new study. Powdery mildew is a common fungal infection in plants that attacks more than 9,000 species, including many crops such as barley and wheat, and horticultural plants such as roses and cucumbers. The researchers, including Shauna Somerville and Mσnica Stein of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology, are the first to document how these defense genes team up in plants. The discovery could help combat fungal parasites that devastate crops and cost growers billions of dollars in pesticides every year.

The study, published in the November 18 issue of the journal Science, describes powdery mildew infection in the mustard relative Arabidopsis thaliana. Each species of mildew is host-specific, meaning it can infect some plant species, but not others. By disabling protective genes in Arabidopsis, the researchers were able to infect the plants with species of powdery mildew that normally attack peas or barley, revealing much about how plants use genes to fight infection.

"Most plants are resistant to the majority of pathogens they encounter, but the basis for this resistance was unknown," Somerville said. "Identifying these genes has provided us with the first insight into how plants defend against multiple pathogens."

Once a powdery mildew infection takes hold, it covers the plant with fuzzy splotches, while sapping precious nutrients. At the cellular level, the fungal spores invade healthy plant cells and form root-like feeding structures called haustoria. The plant cell wall is the primary barrier to this invasion and one of the defense genes described in the current study, called PEN2, prevents the fungus from penetrating cell walls in the first place.

If this first line of defense breaks down, as it does in about 5 to 25 percent of normal Arabidopsis plants (depending on the mildew species), a second set of genes jumps into the fray. These genes, called EDS1, PAD4, and SAG101, work together in a complex inside the cell, and can signal infected cells to die. By sacrificing these fallen cells, the defense genes can spare healthy ones from infection.

Somerville, Stein, and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding in Kφln disabled the protective genes in Arabidopsis by introducing mutations, one at a time and in various combinations. They infected these mutants with one of two species of powdery mildew: Blumeria graminis hordei, a species that attacks barley, and Erysiphe pisi, one that thrives on the leaves and pods of pea plants.

"Disabling just three genes allowed the pea powdery mildew to reproduce as well on Arabidopsis as it does on its normal host," Somerville remarked. "Thus, the resistance barriers limiting the growth of inappropriate pathogens are much less complex than expected, relying on just a limited number of genes."

The EDS1, PAD4, and SAG101 gene complex's ability to signal cell death is relatively well known to scientists. However, very little is known about how PEN2 behaves in the cell. The current study demonstrates that the PEN2 protein is a catabolic enzyme--a protein that breaks down other molecules--though its specific target remains unknown.

The study expands on the researchers' previous work with a gene called PEN1. As its name suggests, PEN1 and PEN2 seem to share a common purpose. However, they seem to act via different mechanisms, and PEN2 protects against a wider range of fungal pathogens. For example, Arabidopsis plants with a disabled PEN2 gene are also more susceptible to Phytopthora infestans, the fungus responsible for the notorious Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th century.

"The resistance mechanisms operating at the cell wall seem to be surprisingly simple," Somerville said. "This suggests it might be possible to reverse engineer crops like wheat with Arabidopsis PEN genes to help control powdery mildew and other destructive diseases, thus minimizing the need for pesticides."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Genetic Defenders Protect Crops From Fungal Disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 November 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051117175404.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2005, November 21). Genetic Defenders Protect Crops From Fungal Disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051117175404.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Genetic Defenders Protect Crops From Fungal Disease." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051117175404.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) — A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) — Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins