The work is published in the March 10 issue of the journal Nature.
The exudates from Arabidopsis roots kill a wide range of bacteria, confirming that roots are not always vulnerable, anchored targets. The natural production of these antimicrobial chemicals offers one explanation for why so few bacteria types actually cause disease in plants. Of the more than 50,000 plant diseases occurring in the United States, fungal pathogens are the leading cause.
"Current understanding of plant defenses does not readily explain why a pathogen can cause disease in one plant species and not another," says Vivanco. "Our findings will help researchers solve the mysteries of plant disease and immunity."
In these experiments, however, root exudates did not kill all of the tested strains of bacteria. One particular strain of Pseudomonas syringae, a bacterium that causes disease in both tomatoes and Arabidopsis, has a seemingly fail-safe mechanism to overcome the plant's defenses. The bacterium not only survives exposure to the antimicrobial substances, it also blocks the plant's ability to produce them.
Both Vivanco and Ausubel are supported by separate awards from the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Vivanco is a recipient of NSF's prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER)
Source:National Science Foundation