Washington State University researchers have discovered the way plants respond to disease-causing organisms, and how they protect themselves, leading the way to potential breakthroughs in breeding resistance to diseases or pests.
The results were published in the journal Plant Physiology and describe how plants respond to a molecule released during damage caused by infection or outside entities. The paper shows how adenosine 5-triphospate (ATP), a part of DNA and energy production in cells, becomes a signal for injury or infection when outside cells. That signal triggers defense responses in plants.
"This is a blueprint for how a plant's immune system works," said WSU Plant Pathology assistant professor Kiwamu Tanaka. "In some respects, even the most innovative breeding programs are still groping around in the dark to build resistance. But if you have the blueprint, you can reach the goal much faster."
To find the correct pathways, the research team used wild plants as well as plants changed in the major pathways of plant defense. The scientists would trigger an ATP response in a modified sample to trace the signal's path to the receptor, then reproduce that in the other samples. It was time-consuming science, with a big payoff, said WSU postdoctoral researcher, and lead author on the paper, Jeremy Jewell.
The science behind this is exciting, but the major impact on society will come from the future use of this information, said professor Kiwamu Tanaka.
"Future plant breeding can now increase plant defense or resistance based on knowing these pathways," said David Gang, WSU professor in the Institute of Biological Chemistry.. "They can be bred to respond faster, or to not waste energy by turning on the entire immune system if only a specific defense is required. The potential for this is pretty incredible for helping plants and crops."
Read more about this study at Science Daily.