Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Modify Plant Gene to Trick Bacterial Defense to Attack Virus

February 17, 2016

Indiana University scientists led by Roger Innes have modified a plant gene that normally fights bacterial infection to confer resistance to a virus. Plants detect pathogens indirectly by sensing the damage they cause within a cell. Once a pathogen is detected, plants mount a strong defense response. Innes' Lab found that plant proteins (sensors) that sense this pathogen-induced damage are highly specific, and previous efforts to broaden their specificity had little success.

Instead of building a better sensor, Innes' team created 'decoy' proteins that would be targeted by the enzymes that pathogens use to cause disease. When existing sensor proteins detect modification of these decoy proteins by the pathogen's enzymes, resistance is activated.

Using this approach, the team was able to broaden the recognition ability of a sensor protein that normally detects the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae to detect two different viral pathogens, turnip mosaic virus and tobacco etch virus, expanding the disease resistance of the plant.

For more information about this research, read the news release from Indiana University Bloomington website.