PULLMAN, Wash. Traditional thought holds that a disease-causing organism has to penetrate a plant to initiate resistance. Now, two Washington State University scientists have established that a barley plant recognizes an invader and begins to marshal its defenses within five minutes of an attack. The discovery, along with the scientists successful cloning of barleys disease-fighting gene and the pathogens signaling gene, could help to revolutionize the battle against cereal crop enemies, such as stem rust. Unless carefully controlled, stem rust has the potential to destroy a growers entire crop. Historically, stem rust has caused the loss of millions of bushels of grain and millions of dollars. Meanwhile, new threats are on the horizon. For example, Ug99 is an evolving wheat pathogen that poses a dangerous threat to global food security, especially in developing countries.
Now that we understand how the plant-pathogen interaction mechanism works, we hope we can manipulate it to build resistance in plants, said Andy Kleinhofs, professor of molecular genetics in WSUs Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. With further research, he added, that understanding could lead to new, more effective ways to battle crop diseases such as stem rust and Ug99.
It will take time for research on Ug99 to see if the mechanism works the same as in this case, Kleinhofs said. If it is the same, we could use the technology to defeat Ug99.
Kleinhofs and Assistant Research Professor Jayaveeramuthu Nirmala focused their research on understanding Rpg1, a gene that provides barley with resistance to the pathogen that causes stem rust. Rpg1 is unique in that it has provided durable resistance in barley over the past 60 years, Kleinhofs said. His laboratory team previously successfully cloned that resistance gene, which when combined with the recently discovered genes that activate it, delivers a one-two punch against stem rust.
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Washington State University