Like a wolf in sheeps clothing, a protein from a disease-causing bacterium slips into plant cells and imitates a key host protein in order to cripple the plants defenses. This discovery, reported in this weeks 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 Parkinsons and Alzheimers 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 AvrPtoBs 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.
Shawna Williams | EurekAlert!
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