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Understanding how plant genes fight disease

A University of Queensland-led study has highlighted the minute details of how a plant’s immune system leads to its ability to resist disease.

February 6, 2017  By The University of Queensland Australia

UQ School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre researcher Bostjan Kobe said the finding was significant as food security was an increasingly relevant problem worldwide.

“It is estimated that pre-harvest plant diseases account for up to 15 per cent of crop losses per year,” he says. “Breeding resistant plant varieties has been the main strategy to combat plant disease, especially because pesticides can be detrimental to the environment. While many plant resistance genes have been identified in the past 20 years, we have a limited understanding of how the products of these genes work.

The research team used x-ray crystallography to understand how the immune receptors in Arapidopsis plants assembled during signalling.


“In the report, we described how one part of the immune receptor protein signals to make the plant resistant to disease.”

Plant molecular biology experts from Australia, South Korea and USA, demonstrated that these interactions were crucial for converting the signals that ultimately made plants resistant to disease.

“It is vitally important that we understand how plant immune systems function,” Kobe says. “Crop losses present a significant economic, environmental and social challenge in a world facing increased demands on food, fibre and biofuels. In the long-term, this research will help make more effective synthetic resistance genes that can be used to provide additional protection in Australia and worldwide from crop diseases.”

The study was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant and is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.


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