In a significant move that would provide vital clues about the plant’s immune system, Chinese scientists have discovered a possible death switch mechanism in plant.
According to officials, this mechanism will triggers infected cells to self-destruct, thus limiting the spread of the disease and keeping other parts of the plant healthy. This research can lead to a new generation of disease-resistant crops that use significantly less pesticide and are more environmentally friendly.
The research was done by scientists from Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Genetics and Development Biology. Their findings were published in the journal Science. About 20 years ago, scientists discovered that plants, like animals, have robust immune systems that can protect them from pathogens including viruses, fungi, bacteria and parasites. Plants also have a unique “lure and catch” immune response to deal with pathogens that have breached their cellular defence, but exactly how this worked remained unknown, Zhou Jianmin, a researcher at the institute and one of the main scientists behind the study. To probe this mystery, Zhou and his team investigated a protein called AvrAC, which is produced by a bacterial pathogen that causes black rot on cabbage. The bacterium injects AvrAC into plant cells, where it acts as a biochemical weapon weakening the plant’s immune system. They discovered that some plants have evolved to carry a resistance protein called ZAR1 that can detect bacterial proteins like AvrAC. These plants use special proteins as bait and trick the bacterial protein into attacking them instead. While the bait is being attacked, ZAR1 is activated to form a multiprotein structure called resistosome.