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New research to help fight widespread potato disease
Date:11/7/2007

Scientists have made a key discovery into the genetics of the bacteria that causes blackleg, an economically damaging disease of potatoes, that could lead to new ways to fight the disease. The researchers at the University of Cambridge, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), found that if a particular gene is inactivated in the bacterium Erwinia carotovora, its ability to damage the plant and cause disease is severely impeded. The research was recently published in the Journal of Bacteriology.

Erwinia carotovora can cause disease in a wide range of plants, including carrots, tomatoes and onions, but is best known in temperate regions for causing blackleg and soft rot in potatoes. Its success partly lies in its ability to produce enzymes which break down its hosts cell walls. The degraded cell walls provide nutrients to the bacterium, and so aid its survival and growth.

The Cambridge researchers discovered that if they inactivated a gene called relA, which helps the bacteria recognise when nutrients are running low, then the bacterias ability to export enzymes to break down the plants cell walls is also abolished.

Research leader Dr Martin Welch explains: Blackleg is a significant economic problem, substantially reducing crop yields.

We have shown that the production of cell wall degrading enzymes is genetically linked to not only signalling abilities but also to the bacteriums nutritional status. This has important implications for researchers looking for new ways to control the disease. By improving our understanding of how Erwinia carotovora rots the plant, we can reveal additional, possibly novel targets for the eventual development of anti-rot agents. We have also opened up the potential to develop pesticides.

Dr Mike Storey, R&D Director of the British Potato Council, commented in response to the research findings: "Blackleg is one of the key diseases across all sectors
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Contact: Matt Goode
press.office@bbsrc.ac
44-017-934-13299
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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