Fighting back: New study reveals unprecedented details of plant-pathogen co-evolution

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Credit: John Innes Centre

The co-evolution of plant – pathogen interactions has been revealed in unprecedented detail in a study of one of the world’s deadliest crop killers. This is the rice blast pathogen, which destroys enough food to feed more than 60 million people every year – almost the population of the UK.

Plants, like animals, have an innate immune system that includes receptors to detect the presence of pathogens, and upon activation resist infection. Researchers at the John Innes Centre have unravelled how rice plants have evolved bespoke defence solutions against different variants of the rice blast pathogen.

The team, led by Professor Mark Banfield, focussed on an immune receptor in rice to show how it has evolved to recognise multiple versions of a pathogen effector protein, a molecule used by the fungus to promote disease, in a sort-of “molecular handshake”. This recognition leads to the disease being stopped in its tracks.

The team behind this work included PhD student Juan Carlos De la Concepcion and postdoctoral researcher Marina Franceschetti, as well as colleagues from The Sainsbury Laboratory (Norwich) and Japan. The increased understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind plant immunity mean this multidisciplinary team are nearer to engineering disease resistance against a range of crop pathogens.

“In addition to understanding how natural selection has driven the emergence of new receptor functions, we also highlight the potential for molecular engineering of new receptors with improved activities,” said Professor Banfield. “While further work is required to translate our findings into real world solutions to plant disease, our study brings us one step closer to this goal,” he added. This study represents one of the most detailed structure/function analyses of pathogen recognition in plants, to date.

The findings are outlined in the study titled: “Polymorphic residues in rice NLRs expand binding and response to effectors of the blast pathogen”, which appears today in the peer-reviewed Journal Nature Plants.

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Funding for the study came from the John Innes Foundation, BBSRC, ERC, Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

For the full study go to ‘Polymorphic residues in rice NLRs expand binding and response to effectors of the blast pathogen’ is published in Nature Plants at 16:00 London time 9th July 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41477-018-0194-x

Pictures and captions available on request – [email protected]

Contacts

Press Contact: Felicity Perry – [email protected]
Tel: 01603 450269 Out of Hours Tel: 07881 255193

About the John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre is an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology.

Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature’s diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health, and wellbeing, and engage with policy makers and the public.

To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing.

This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world.

The John Innes Centre is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 2015-2016 the John Innes Centre received a total of £30.1 million from the BBSRC.

The John Innes Centre is also supported by the John Innes Foundation through provision of research accommodation and long-term support of the Rotation PhD programme.

The John Innes Centre is the winner of the BBSRC’s 2013 – 2016 Excellence with Impact award.

For more information about the John Innes Centre visit our website http://www.jic.ac.uk

About the BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £473M in world-class bioscience in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes

Media Contact

Felicity Perry
[email protected]
01-603-450-269
@johninnescentre

http://www.jic.ac.uk

Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41477-018-0194-x

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