The defence mechanisms plants use to recognise and respond to a common pest -- the caterpillar -- has arisen from a single gene that evolved over millions of years, according to a report published today in eLife.
The study finds that some plants, such as soybeans, have lost this protective gene over time, and suggests that breeding plants or genetically engineering them to reintroduce the gene could protect against crop failure.
The health status of a plant depends on the immune system it inherits. In plants, this means inheriting certain types of pattern recognition receptors that can recognise distinct pathogens and herbivore-derived peptides, and trigger an appropriate immune response.
"Inheriting the right types of pattern recognition receptors can allow plants to recognise threats and cope with diseases and pests," explains lead author Simon Snoeck, postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Biology, University of Washington, US. " Although we know many pest-derived molecules which activate immune responses in plants, our knowledge of how plants evolved the ability to sense new threats is limited."