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How invading pathogens switch off plant cells' defenses


by Universitaet Tübingen
Many disease-causing bacteria are able to inhibit the defense mechanisms in plants and thus escape dissolution by the plant cell, a process known as xenophagy. Animal and human cells have a similar mechanism whereby the cell's defenses "eat" invading bacteria—yet some bacteria can inhibit the process. An international research team has now described the inhibition of xenophagy in plants for the first time. The team is headed by Professor Suayb Üstün from the Center for Plant Molecular Biology at the University of Tübingen and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. The study has been published in The EMBO Journal.

Cells must constantly adapt the proteins inside them to changing functions and to influences from their surroundings. "Constant protein degradation is unavoidable, otherwise the cell becomes cramped and runs out of material," explains Suayb Üstün, whose working group studies these strictly regulated degradation processes. When the cell has to degrade large protein complexes, insoluble aggregates or entire organelles, it usually uses a process known as autophagy, literally "eating itself." "Animal and human cells also sometimes use this method of degradation when they want to eliminate invaders such as pathogenic bacteria. In this case, the process is also called xenophagy—eating the stranger," says the scientist.

Arms race between host and pathogens

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