What do bananas, wheat, chocolate, and humans have in common? All are in the midst of deadly pandemics. Humans have the tools to fight back; plants need help.
A discovery by plant and microbial biology professor Brian Staskawicz and colleagues, published last December in the journal Science, is a critical step toward assisting plants in fighting pathogens without pesticides or other toxins.
Global banana production is seriously threatened by Fusarium Tropical Race 4 fungus, while a disease called wheat blast endangers the world’s wheat supply and overall food security. Cacao swollen shoot virus is spreading in West Africa, where roughly half of the world’s chocolate is grown. According to Staskawicz, who serves as the director of sustainable agriculture at the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI), the direst predictions foretell an unthinkable future without chocolate in as little as 10 years.
In the study, Staskawicz, researcher Eva Nogales, and a team of IGI scientists outline their discovery of the structure and function of a resistosome, a plant immune receptor that recognizes pathogens and activates a strong defense.
Using state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscopes at the Cal-Cryo facility, which Nogales directs, the team captured an image of a resistosome called ROQ1, which helped them understand how ROQ1 uses specific loops of its molecular structure to recognize pathogens. The research could lead to the creation of new resistance genes designed to protect plants from specific diseases and could help explain evolutionary mechanisms behind pathogen resistance.
— Andy Murdock