Simple, fast and flexible: It could become significantly easier to vaccinate plants against viruses in future. Scientists at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB) and the National Research Council in Italy (CNR) have developed a new method for this purpose. It enables the rapid identification and production of precisely tailored substances that combat different pathogens. The researchers discuss their work in the next edition of the journal "Nucleic Acids Research."
The new method is based on a molecular defence program of plants that is triggered, for example, by viral infections. During a virus attack, the plant's cells serve as a host to multiply the virus, which results in the creation of viral ribonucleic acid molecules (RNAs). Plants can detect and cut up these molecules using special enzyme scissors. This process produces "small interfering RNAs" (siRNAs) which spread throughout the plant and may initiate a second stage of defence for the plant. Here, the siRNA molecules attach themselves to so-called Argonaute protein complexes and lead these to the virus RNAs, which then, in the best-case scenario can be dismantled and broken down into harmless compounds. "By implementing this two-stage process, the plant is trying to protect itself from the virus both at the site of the infection and throughout its structure," says Professor Sven-Erik Behrens from MLU's Institute of Biochemistry and Biotechnology.