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Plant pathogen genetically tailors attacks to each part of host, say Stanford researchers
Date:4/14/2010

people working on pathogens of all types will go back now and ask, 'when the pathogen is found in different parts of the body, is it actually using different weapons?'" Walbot said. "We think this discovery will stimulate many new experiments with existing pathogens."

Pathologists generally collect their samples from the same, characteristic place on the organism they are studying. For a plant, that is typically the leaves or fruit, while in an animal, it is usually a spot where the pathogen of interest is clearly flourishing. But as a result, Walbot said, when researchers happen to find the pathogen in another place in the organism, they generally don't test whether the pathogen is doing different things.

"It may be just the specialization of modern pathology which has resulted in the 'whole organism' context being overlooked," she said.

Walbot hopes that her team's work on corn smut will also inspire new experiments on human disease such as cancer.

"Medicine has made the same assumption that pathogens use all of their weapons wherever they are attacking a human," Walbot said.

But it may be that human pathogens are also situationally selective, genetically modulating the nature of their attack to whatever part of the body they are infecting.

"If that is the case, then we could develop drugs that are specific for the particular organ or tissue where the pathogen is found," Walbot said. "I think that holds great promise for reducing the damage done to the patient in the course of drug treatment."

Walbot got interested in researching the possibility that pathogens might vary their attack while doing fieldwork on a different project for which she was evaluating some mutant strains of maize. She noticed that certain kinds of mutants were resistant to corn smut.

Through a series of experiments with different maize mutants, she determined that the key factor in determining whether or how intensely
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert  

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