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Fertility or powdery mildew resistance?
Date:11/12/2010

Powdery mildew is a fungus that infects both crop and ornamental plants. Each year, powdery mildew and other plant pathogens cause immense crop loss. Despite decades of intense research, little is known of the plant molecules that allow fungal hyphae to invade the host's epidermal cells. A European research group lead by Ueli Grossniklaus, a plant geneticist at the University of Zurich, now published a study in Science shedding a new light on mildew susceptibility in plants and its surprising link to reproduction.

Investigating mildew susceptibility in plants is not really a main research focus for Ueli Grossniklaus, a professor for plant genetics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Grossniklaus' lab mainly investigates the molecular mechanism of both sexual and asexual plant reproduction. His group conducts fundamental research on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, whose complete genome has been deciphered.

Recently, Grossniklaus and his team uncovered a mutant that they named nortia after an Etruscan goddess of fertility. Together with FERONIA a gene Grossniklaus' group had previously discovered NORTIA plays a key role in the communication between the female and male cells during fertilization. Surprisingly, examination of the structure of the NORTIA gene revealed that it was very similar to the structure the Mlo gene of barley. In barley, Mlo is responsible for powdery mildew susceptibility, with mlo mutants showing a resistance against many strains of powdery mildew infection. This mutation is the only known permanent resistance against powdery mildew infection and it is widely used in barley breeding. Plants with such inherent resistance are of great importance, as they reduce crop loss due to powdery mildew infection without the use of fungicides. Up until now, little was known about the molecular components that allow the fungus to penetrate the epidermal cells of leafs of other plants.

Pollination and fun
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Contact: Prof. Ueli Grossniklaus
grossnik@botinst.uzh.ch
41-446-348-240
University of Zurich
Source:Eurekalert

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