Characterizing and Exploiting “Missile”-Like Defense in Plants

We identified a novel type of plant resistance proteins that fight against fungal invasion right at the host-pathogen interface.

Pathogenic fungi cause huge crop losses worldwide. Deploying crop cultivars with broad-spectrum resistance is the most effective and environmentally friendly approach to protect crops against pathogens. Therefore, identifying, characterizing and innovating naturally evolved plant resistance genes are critical for breeding next generation crops for sustainable agriculture. However, fungal resistance, particularly broad-spectrum resistance is still poorly characterized in plants. Therefore, the long-term goal of our research is to elucidate and innovate/engineer broad-spectrum resistance in crop plants to help them fight against fungal pathogens. 

The extrahaustorial membrane is the plant-fungus interface and battleground. However it is poorly characterized. Our group has characterized the first host-pathogen interface-specific protein called RPW8 that activates broad-spectrum resistance right at the interface to fight against fungal invasion. Therefore, our discovery that plants have evolved “missile”-like defense systems is remarkable. It should not only open a door to study the mysterious host-pathogen interface, but also  inspire novel strategies to engineer more effective resistance against fungal pathogens in crop plants.

The RPW8 resistance mechanism is novel and interesting in that host defenses are executed at precise subcellular location (host-pathogen interface). Hence, RPW8 has become a unique and valuable to study the host-pathogen interface-oriented, protein/membrane trafficking pathway and the origin and biogenesis of the extrahaustorial membrane.

We anticipate that our research findings are interesting to the scientific community who study plant resistance mechanisms in general. Our translational research toward engineering RPW8 missile-like defense in plants (A formal US Patent was issued on Jun 16  2015; US 9057077)  should also attract attention from AgroBiotech companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta  etc.