The researchers found that pathogenic fungi and nematodes both attack tomato plants by deactivating the same protein. Since this protein in tomato plants is guarded by a so-called immune receptor, the plant can successfully deflect attacks from both the fungus and the nematode. This discovery increases the potential for the development of plants that are resistant to multiple attackers, thereby contributing to sustainable production of food and green resources.
Immune receptors alert plants and animals to the presence of intruders. The detection of a pathogen by an immune receptor triggers a rapid and vigorous immune response. While plants have fewer immune receptors than mammals, say, they are nevertheless resistant to most pathogens. This has led to the idea that plants make much more efficient use of their immune receptors, although it is not known how they do so.
Fungi and nematodes have their own distinctive arsenal for attacking plants. The fungus Cladosporium fulvum and the nematode Globodera rostochiensis, two formidable pests of tomato plants, appear to attack the same target – a specific protein of the tomato plant. This protein is monitored by the immune receptor Cf-2. Earlier studies had already shown that this receptor enables the defence of the tomato plant against the fungus. It now appears that the same Cf-2 receptor also offers protection against the nematode.
The conclusion is that tomato plants use one receptor to gain resistance to multiple and very different attackers. This discovery increases the potential for the development of plants that are resistant to multiple disease-causing microbes. If researchers find a receptor that enables defence against a particular pathogen, it can be worthwhile to investigate whether this receptor can also defend the plant against other pathogens. With this knowledge, plant breeders can subsequently develop varieties with resistance to multiple pathogens with relative ease. These varieties can be used for sustainable production of food and green commodities.
This publication is based on the thesis of Jose Lozano-Torres from the Laboratory for Nematology (WU). The research was partly funded by NWO and the European Commission.