Invasion of the Plant Pathogens

by | Apr 5, 2011

TomatoesImagine your home being invaded by an enemy and you are unable to run away. Plants find themselves in that situation repeatedly. As they adapt to fight off pathogens, pathogens evolve to find new ways of infecting plants.

Now, Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) and Cornell researchers have received a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program to explore plant-pathogen interactions in order to develop plants with more durable disease resistance

The research team, led by BTI scientist Gregory Martin and professor in Cornell University’s department of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, Alan Collmer, Cornell professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology and Dilip Panthee, professor of horticulture at North Carolina State University, will study the interaction between tomato and the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato, which causes speck disease. It is the third in a series of NSF grants to the BTI-Cornell group to study Pseudomonas-tomato interactions since 2000.

In plant-pathogen interactions, the plants innate immune system uses proteins called kinases to sense the presence of potential pathogens and send signals to the cell so it can respond appropriately.

With this new grant, Greg Martin, along with BTI scientists Sorina Popescu and Zhangjun Fei, plan to “identify the most important immunity-associated kinases in tomato and understand how these proteins function to activate plant defense responses”, Martin explained.

The BTI scientists will work closely with Alan Collmer who has developed unique strains of Pseudomonas syringaethat allow subtle differences to be detected in the plant immune system. “Together we will then extend this new knowledge about plant defense by working with Dilip Panthee, a tomato breeder, to develop new tomato varieties with more durable disease resistance”, Martin said.

An outreach component of the grant includes functional genomic Web resources, developed by Magdalen Lindeberg, a Cornell senior research associate in plant pathology and plant-microbe biology, for the worldwide research community that is using P. syringae as a model pathogen, and a computer game being developed by Wells College computer scientist Bryant Adams that is based on molecular plant-microbe interactions but uses a “spy vs. spy” theme, complete with decoys and double agents.

This story was adapted from a news release by Krishna Ramanujan of the Cornell University Chronicle.

Subscribe to BTI's LabNotes Newsletter!



Boyce Thompson Institute
533 Tower Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14853