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How plant sensors detect pathogens

Copyright: Thinkstock
News from: The John Innes Centre

An international team of scientists has described precisely how a plant can sense a pathogen.

“We know that plants have sensors to detect pathogens but we knew little about how they work,” says Professor Banfield from the John Innes Centre.

In the mid-20th century, an American scientist named Harold Henry Flor helped explain how certain varieties of plants can fight off some plant killers (pathogens), but not others, with a model called the “gene-for-gene” hypothesis.

In a study published in eLife, the team led by Professor Mark Banfield, in collaboration with the Iwate Biotechnology Research Centre (Japan) and The Sainsbury Laboratory, investigated how one sensor protein from rice called Pik binds AVR-Pik, a protein from the rice blast pathogen. This fungus causes the most devastating disease of rice crops. Using X-ray crystallography facilities at Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire, the team succeeded in imaging the contact points between the plant and pathogen proteins at the molecular level – the first time this has been done for a pair of plant and pathogen proteins that follow the gene-for-gene model.

Dr Abbas Maqbool from the JIC, first author of the study added, “Harold Flor predicted that plant sensors discriminate between different pathogen types, but at the time he had no knowledge of the molecules involved. It is remarkable that his ideas have now crystallized into detailed molecular models.”

Dr Maqbool, Professor Banfield and colleagues went on to discover that the strength at which the Pik sensor binds the pathogen AVR-Pik protein correlates with the strength of the plant’s response. This opens up new avenues for engineering better plant responses against pathogens by building sensors with increased strength of binding to pathogen proteins, and therefore conferring enhanced resistance to disease.

“Once we understand how these plant sensors detect invading pathogens, we can devise strategies to ‘boost’ the plant immune system and help protect rice and other important food crops from disease,” says Professor Banfield.

The project was supported by funding from BBSRC, the European Research Council, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan) and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.

Link to eLife paper: http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e08709

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. The paper “Structural basis of pathogen recognition by an integrated HMA domain in a plant NLR immune receptor” is published in eLife at 8am Tuesday 25 August
  2. If you would like to interview Professor Banfield please contact Geraldine Platten (see external contacts)
  3. Images to accompany this press release can be found at: http://bit.ly/1TQFdYF

About John Innes Centre

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 2013-2014 the John Innes Centre received a total of £31.4M from BBSRC.

About BBSRC

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 £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15. 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: www.bbsrc.ac.uk.
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes.

About the European Research Council

The ERC's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence.

The ERC complements other funding activities in Europe such as those of the national research funding agencies, and is a flagship component of Horizon 2020, the European Union's Research Framework Programme for 2014 to 2020.

Ultimately, the ERC aims to make the European research base more prepared to respond to the needs of a knowledge-based society and provide Europe with the capabilities in frontier research necessary to meet global challenges.

For more information about ERC see: http://erc.europa.eu


Tags: genetics The John Innes Centre pests plants press release rice immunity