An international collaboration of researchers, headed by Dr. Shiping Wang (Huazhong Agricultural University, China) has discovered that a single gene in rice regulates both male fertility and pathogen resistance, providing an unexpected genetic link between reproductive success and the disease resistance.
Dr. Wang and colleagues characterized a new disease resistance (R) gene in rice, xa13, whose expression tips the balance between fertility and pathogen defense. The recessive xa13 allele provides resistance to bacterial leaf blight, the most devastating bacterial plant disease in the world. While expression of the dominant Xa13 allele makes plants more susceptible to disease, it also promotes pollen development.
This surprising positive effect of Xa13 on plant fertility helps explain how an apparently detrimental allele has remained in the plant's gene pool.
Dr. Wang is confident that "the finding of multiple roles played by the same gene provided new perspective on relationships between the processes of disease resistance and sexual reproductive development, which will greatly influence our way of thinking in future studies."
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