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Mildew infections not only cause unsightly vegetable patches, they can also result in extensive crop failure. Interestingly, the processes involved in infections with this garden pest are similar to those involved in fertilisation. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne and the University of Zurich have identified two proteins in the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana that are necessary for both fertilisation and infection with powdery mildew. This explains why mildew-resistant plants, in which these genes are mutated, are infertile. (Science, Vol 330, p 968-971)
Pollen tubes and hyphae, the filamentous structures of which fungi are formed, not only look very similar, they also require similar proteins. The two proteins in question, which have just been discovered, are named after the Etruscan fertility goddesses Feronia and Nortia. The scientists discovered that these proteins are both beneficial and harmful to plants. They link the capacity for seed formation with the absence of resistance to mildew infection.
Feronia signals to the pollen tube, which germinates from the pollen, that it has reached its destination and that it is time to release the male gametes. The protein is also formed in the leaves, however, and provides mildew with access to the plant. For the latter to become resistant to the intruder, both the maternal and paternal copies of the feronia gene must be defective. If the plant lacks the feronia protein, however, the pollen tube does not stop growing at the entrance to the embryo sac but continues to penetrate into the female part of the flower and does not trigger the release of sperm cells. As a result, fertilisation does not take place and an embryo does not develop.
The protein Nortia is also involved in fertilisa
|Contact: Dr. Ralph Panstruga|