Biotech Updates

Scientists in the US and UK to Uncover Role of Microbes in Plant Immunity

October 20, 2022

Feng Feng, a molecular biologist with Oklahoma State University, checks on Medicago truncatula plants in his laboratory. Feng is researching how microbes in the plant’s roots provide it with necessary nutrients while also hindering the plant’s immunity to infection. Photo Source: Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services

Oklahoma State University scientist and assistant professor Feng Feng is studying how beneficial microorganisms are helping plants acquire nutrients. Microbes infect plant roots to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with the plant called symbiosis, a relationship that provides plants with essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Like people, plants are naturally exposed to a wide variety of microorganisms. Some of these microorganisms are good, some are bad, and they have an immune system that triggers defense responses to limit infection. To establish this symbiotic relationship with plants, microbes suppress a plant's immune system. Feng said microbes can produce signal molecules called lipo-chitooligosaccharides (LCOs) that are recognized by a plant receptor called NFP. This recognition triggers symbiosis, which hinders the plant's immunity to infection.

Feng said that what they want to know is how microbes use LCOs to hinder immunity to plant infections. So he and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom will work on the legume Medicago truncatula along with barley to understand the molecular process that causes root microbes to suppress immune systems in plants. According to Feng, the project will identify a set of plant genes that are required for LCOs to suppress plant immune systems. Once the genes have been identified, Feng and his colleagues hope to place them into barley to determine if they enhance the plant's ability to take in soil nutrients and fight Fusarium graminearum, a fungal disease that causes head blight in small-grain cereals.

For more details, read the article on the Oklahoma State University website.

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