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16/07/2018 – News / Agriculture / Science & Technology / Rice / John Innes Centre / UK

New study brings scientists nearer to thwarting one of the world’s deadliest crop killers

Work by researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich in the UK could prove key to thwarting rice blast pathogen – one of the world’s deadliest crop killers.


Rice blast pathogen destroys enough food to feed more than 60 million people every year – almost the population of the UK.


Plants, like animals, have an innate immune system that includes receptors to detect the presence of pathogens – and, upon activation, resist infection.


Now, researchers at the John Innes Centre have unravelled how rice plants have evolved bespoke defence solutions against different variants of the rice blast pathogen.


The team, led by Professor Mark Banfield, focused on an immune receptor in rice to show how it has evolved to recognise multiple versions of a pathogen effector protein – a molecule used by the fungus to promote disease, in a sort-of ‘molecular handshake’. And it is this recognition that leads to the disease being stopped in its tracks.


The team behind this work included PhD student Juan Carlos De la Concepcion and postdoctoral researcher Marina Franceschetti, as well as colleagues from The Sainsbury Laboratory (Norwich) and Japan.


The increased understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind plant immunity mean this multidisciplinary team are nearer to engineering disease resistance against a range of crop pathogens.


“In addition to understanding how natural selection has driven the emergence of new receptor functions, we also highlight the potential for molecular engineering of new receptors with improved activities,” said Professor Banfield. “While further work is required to translate our findings into real world solutions to plant disease, our study brings us one step closer to this goal,” he added. 


The new study represents one of the most detailed structure/function analyses of pathogen recognition in plants to date.


The findings are outlined in the study entitled: ‘Polymorphic residues in rice NLRs expand binding and response to effectors of the blast pathogen’, which appears in the peer-reviewed Journal Nature Plants.

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