Plant immune system detects bacteria through small fatty acid molecules
TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF MUNICH (TUM)Like humans and animals, plants defend themselves against pathogens with the help of their immune system. But how do they activate their cellular defenses? Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have now discovered that receptors in plant cells identify bacteria through simple molecular building blocks.
"The immune system of plants is more sophisticated than we thought," says Dr. Stefanie Ranf from the Chair of Phytopathology of the TU Munich. Together with an international research team, the biochemist has discovered substances that activate plant defense.
Until now, scientists have thought that plant cells - similar to those of humans and animals - recognize bacteria through complex molecular compounds, for example from the bacterial cell wall. In particular, certain molecules composed of a fat-like part and sugar molecules, lipopolysaccharides or LPS for short, were suspected of triggering an immune response.
In 2015, Ranf's team successfully identified the respective receptor protein: lipo-oligosaccharide-specific reduced elicitation, or LORE for short. All experiments indicated that this LORE protein activates the plant cell's immune system when it detects LPS molecules from the cell wall of certain bacteria.
A throwback leads to the right track
"The surprise came when we wanted to study this receptor protein more closely," recalls Ranf. "Our goal was to find out how LORE distinguishes different LPS molecules. For this we needed high-purity LPS. "