Crop Biotech Update

Boosting Plant Alert System to Counter Stealthy Diseases

November 11, 2015

Plants are often tricked by stealthy diseases when their defense signaling system gets hacked. A team of international scientists led by Michigan State University is helping plants counter such attacks by boosting their alert system. The team has engineered the receptor for jasmonate, a plant hormone that regulates plant defenses against pathogens and insects.

A group of highly evolved pathogens produce a jasmonate-mimicking toxin, coronatine. This toxin is used by bacteria to override the jasmonate receptor, which divert plant resources, allowing pathogens to bypass the defense system without tripping the plant's signaling system. To stem the hijacking, the research team created an enhanced receptor that can still signal for insect defense, but also has a greatly reduced sensitivity to coronatine toxin.

The team's proof-of-concept demonstration showed that the coronatine-based takeover of the jasmonate receptor by bacterial pathogens can be stopped, and that plants can be engineered to be resistant to both insects and pathogens, which has been one of the elusive goals of plant pathology and entomology research.

For more details about this research, read the news release at the Michigan State University website.