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Discovery bolsters battle against bacteria and fungi

PULLMAN — Scientists at Washington State University in Pullman have discovered a molecule that plays a role in the battle plants must win against bacteria and fungi that would eat them for lunch.

The group led by Professor Clarence A. “Bud” Ryan isolated a small protein called Pep1 that appears to act like a hormone, signaling to the rest of the plant to raise its defenses at the first sign of an infection. They also discovered the receptor protein to which Pep1 binds to exert its protective effects.

Pep1 was isolated from the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which is a species favored by investigators for attributes that facilitate experimentation, but the same molecule is found in crop species such as canola, soybean, potato, tomato, rice and poplar. Therefore, further work on Pep1 and its receptor could lead to a general increase in the resistance of crops to pathogens, which could greatly benefit farmers. Already, the researchers have used the Pep1 gene to increase the resistance of Arabidopsis plants to a fungal pathogen called Pythium irregulare.

The findings were presented in July at the American Society of Plant Biologists meeting at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.

For more information, contact Ryan at (509) 335-3304 or e-mail to cabudryan@wsu.edu.

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