Biotech Updates

JIC Scientists Study How Parasites Modify Plants to Attract Insects

November 11, 2011

Pathogens have been proven to have the ability to alter their hosts. One example of this is the malaria parasite which can make humans look more appealing to mosquitoes. However, how the parasites do it has been a mystery until John Innes Centre scientists identified a molecule from a parasite that affects the development of the plant to the advantage of the insect host.

Certain species of leaf hoppers can acquire and transmit plant pathogens such as phytoplasma strain called Aster Yellows Witches' Broom which cases deformity in a diverse range of plants. The recent findings of Dr. Saskia Hogenhout's team revealed how the phytoplasma manipulates the interaction of the plant host and insect vector to its advantage. Of the 56 candidate molecules, they identified the protein effector SAPII could reduce the production of the defense hormone in the plant that is used against leafhopper. Thus, leafhoppers reared on plants infected with witches broom, laid more eggs, and produced more offspring. The leafhoppers may also be attracted to lay eggs in the bunched branches and stems. The leafhoppers also took the opportunity to migrate to uninfected plants and thus spread the pathogen.

Read more at The research article is available at