By switching ‘bait,’ biologists trick plants’ bacterial defense into attacking virus

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Science Daily.

Scientists at Indiana University have modified a plant gene that normally fights bacterial infection to confer resistance to a virus.

The method, described in a paper to be published Feb. 12 in the journal Science, is the first time a plant’s innate defense system has been altered to deliver resistance to a new disease. It is also the subject of a patent filing by the IU Research and Technology Corp.

“Our results suggest this method, which involves a single, minor alteration to an existing gene, is broadly applicable to a wide swath of diseases affecting plants of economic importance,” said Roger Innes, professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, who led the study.

This not only includes viral and bacterial infections but also diseases caused by fungi, oomycetes — fungus-like microorganisms that caused the Irish potato famine — and nematode worms. Globally, crop diseases affect billions of people each year through lost revenue and food supply.

The results are the outcome of nearly 20 years of investigation into plant immunity by Innes.

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