Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Bacterial protein mimics host to cripple defenses


Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a protein from a disease-causing bacterium slips into plant cells and imitates a key host protein in order to cripple the plant’s defenses. This discovery, reported in this week’s Science Express by researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) for Plant Research, advances the understanding of a disease mechanism common to plants, animals, and people.

That mechanism, called programmed cell death (PCD), causes a cell to commit suicide. PCD helps organisms contain infections, nip potential cancers in the bud, and get rid of old or unneeded cells. However, runaway PCD leads to everything from unseemly spots on tomatoes to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

BTI Scientist and Cornell University Professor of Plant Pathology Gregory Martin studies the interaction of Pseudomonas syringae bacteria with plants to find what determines whether a host succumbs to disease. Martin and graduate student Robert Abramovitch previously found that AvrPtoB, a protein Pseudomonas injects into plants, disables PCD in a variety of susceptible plants and in yeast (a single-celled ancestor of both plants and animals). Abramovitch and Martin compared AvrPtoB’s amino acid sequence to known proteins in other microbes and in higher organisms, but found no matches that might hint at how the protein works at the molecular level.

"We had some biochemical clues to what AvrPtoB was doing, but getting the three-dimensional crystal structure was really key," Martin explained. To find that structure, Martin and Abramovitch worked with collaborators at Rockefeller University. The structure of AvrPtoB revealed that the protein looks very much like a ubiquitin ligase, an enzyme plant and animal cells use to attach the small protein ubiquitin to unneeded or defective proteins. Other enzymes then chew up and "recycle" the ubiquitin-tagged proteins.

To confirm that AvrPtoB was a molecular mimic, Martin and Abramovitch altered parts of the protein that correspond to crucial sites on ubiquitin ligase. These changes rendered Pseudomonas harmless to susceptible tomato plants, and made the purified protein inactive. AvrPtoB’s function is remarkable not only because its amino acid sequence is so different from other ubiquitin ligases, but also because bacteria don’t use ubiquitin to recycle their own proteins.

"An interesting question is where this protein came from," Martin noted. "Did the bacteria steal it from a host and modify it over time, or did it evolve independently? We don’t know."

Regardless, the discovery "helps us understand how organisms regulate cell death on a fundamental level," Martin said. AvrPtoB provides a sophisticated tool researchers can use to knock out PCD brought on by a variety of conditions, shedding light on immunity. The protein itself or a derivative might one day be applied to control disease in crops or in people. For now, Martin and Abramovitch are working to find which proteins AvrPtoB acts on, and what role those proteins play in host PCD.

Shawna Williams | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>