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Researchers discover primer to plant defense system
Date:4/3/2009

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., April 3, 2009 -- By identifying a novel compound that primes a plant's immune system, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Chicago may be on a path to developing disease-resistant plants.

In a paper published in Science, a team that includes Tim Tschaplinski of the Department of Energy's ORNL reports that azelaic acid has a role in priming the immunity response in Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. This plant, commonly known as thale cress or mouse-ear cress, is widely used as a model organism for studying higher plants.

While Tschaplinski acknowledged that this field is in its infancy and involves a very complex network of responses, he and co-authors are excited about what may lie ahead.

"Long term, this discovery may prove useful for preventing diseases in crops and other plants, and perhaps for generating plants that are more disease-resistant in the first place," said Tschaplinski, a member of ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division.

The discovery was actually made when Tschaplinski kept noticing a persistent mass spectral signature that occurred soon after Arabidopsis plants were exposed to a bacterial pathogen. The signal matched a pattern in a database of mass spectral signatures of Arabidopsis metabolites and prompted Tschaplinski to have a conversation with the University of Chicago's Jean Greenberg and postdoctoral scholar Ho Won Jung. Their discussion led to some additional research and this paper, titled "Priming in Systemic Plant Immunity."

Among key findings was that plants can boost their overall immunity to infection once they have a local exposure to certain pathogenic microbes. This occurs through a series of steps, beginning with a primary infection that causes the plant to induce defenses to contain the spread and growth of the pathogen. The infection causes the plant to produce more azelaic acid, which stimul
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Contact: Ron Walli
wallira@ornl.gov
865-576-0226
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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