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Key to virulence protein entry into host cells discovered
Date:8/4/2008

Blacksburg, Va. Researchers from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech have identified the region of a large family of virulence proteins in oomycete plant pathogens that enables the proteins to enter the cells of their hosts. The protein region contains the amino acid sequence motifs RXLR and dEER and has the ability to carry the virulence proteins across the membrane surrounding plant cells without any additional machinery from the pathogen. Once inside the plant cell, the proteins suppress the immune system of the plant allowing the infection to progress. The work, which focused on the virulence protein Avr1b from the soybean plant pathogen Phytophthora sojae, is published in the advance online edition of The Plant Cell.*

Oomycetes are fungal-like organisms related to marine algae that cause tens of billions of dollars of losses to agriculture, forestry and natural ecosystems every year. The oomycete Phytophthora infestans caused the Irish potato famine in the nineteenth century. Another Phytophthora species, P. ramorum, is causing Sudden Oak Death disease in California's coastal forests. P. sojae results in $200-300 million in annual losses for commercial soybean farmers in the United States and estimated annual soybean losses of $1-2 billion worldwide. All of these oomycete species contain hundreds of genes that encode for virulence proteins that have the RXLR-dEER region.**

The virulence proteins, including Avr1b, enter the soybean host where they are capable of suppressing an important process in plant immunity called programmed cell death.*** Programmed cell death is an in-built suicide mechanism that kills infected plant tissue, filling it with toxins so the pathogen can no longer feed on it. By preventing this protective mechanism in the host, the virulence proteins ensure that the pathogen can establish an unassailable foothold in the plant tissue from which the pathogen can pursue its de
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Contact: Barry Whyte
whyte@vbi.vt.edu
540-231-1767
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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