Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How Plants turn into Zombies

16.10.2015

Scientists from Jena University (Germany) shed light on the molecular reasons for a bacterial plant disease

It begins as a fairy tale which later turns into a horror story: Lusciously flowering plants, surrounded by a large number of insects. Usually, both sides profit from the encounter: Feasting on the plant juice and pollen, the insects pollinate the flowers and thus secure the survival of the plants. However, sometimes the insects – in this case a certain species of leafhoppers – can bring disaster to the plants, which they are not able to overcome.


Instead of blossoms (top left), phytoplasma infected plants (asters in this case) form vestigial leafs (top right) as well as vegetative shoots (bottom).

credit: Alan Lorance

“The insects transmit bacteria, so-called phytoplasmas, which destroy the life cycle of the plants,” says Prof. Dr. Günter Theißen of Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). Instead of blossoming, the afflicted specimens only form vestigial leaf structures and thus prevent sexual reproduction.

“These plants become the living dead,“ the geneticist points out. “Eventually they only serve the spread of the bacteria.“ Therefore, the scientists also call these plants 'zombies'.

Prof. Theißen and his Jena team have just succeeded in making a significant contribution to understanding the molecular-biological reasons for this phenomenon. In the latest issue of the science magazine 'Trends in Plant Science' the researchers explain how the parasites interfere with the development of plants in such a disastrous manner and inflict a 'zombie' existence on them (DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2015.08.004).

One of the main culprits is a protein called SAP54, explains the post-graduate student Florian Rümpler, the lead author of the publication. “This protein comes from the bacteria and bears a strong structural resemblance to proteins which form a regulatory complex inside the plant, which permits a normal development of the blossom.“

On basis of modelling studies, the Jena scientists were able to show that SAP54 imitates the structure of certain MADS-domain-proteins in the infected plants that perfectly that they connect with SAP54 instead of their own proteins. This eventually leads to the degradation of the MADS-domain-proteins, so that they can no longer fulfil their normal function within the regulatory complexes of the blossom development. “This prevents the formation of petals and flower organs,“ Rümpler explains.

Another unanswered question is where the similarity of the molecules comes from. “It is conceivable that both proteins trace back to a common origin,“ Rümpler says. “However we suspect that this is not the case.“ Hence, the research team of Jena University postulates in their new publication that the bacterial protein has in the course of its evolution adapted so precisely to its host.

Whether the new findings will be put into practical use one day remains to be seen. The phenomenon of the phytoplasma infestation has been known for a long time; e.g. fruit growers and allotment gardeners refer to it as 'broom growth' on apple trees, and also for winegrowers and plant breeders, phytoplasmoses occasionally lead to drops in yield.

“Although, we understand the infection process better now, we are not yet able to prevent it,“ Theißen says. Nevertheless, he and his colleagues consider the new findings a promising basis for further fundamental research. The impact of the phytoplasma infection could for instance be useful for a better understanding of the genesis of blossoms in the course of evolution.

Original Publication:
Rümpler F et al. Did convergent protein evolution enable phytoplasmas to generate ‘zombie plants’? Trends in Plant Science, 2015, DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2015.08.004).

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Günter Theißen, Florian Rümpler
Department of Genetics
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Philosophenweg 12, 07743 Jena
Germany
Phone: ++49 3641 / 949550, ++49 3641 / 949564
Email: guenter.theissen[at]uni-jena.de, florian.ruempler[at]uni-jena.de

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.uni-jena.de

Dr. Ute Schönfelder | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Flavins keep a handy helper in their pocket
25.04.2018 | University of Freiburg

nachricht Complete skin regeneration system of fish unraveled
24.04.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Getting electrons to move in a semiconductor

25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Reconstructing what makes us tick

25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Cheap 3-D printer can produce self-folding materials

25.04.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>