The rice blast pathogen destroys enough food to feed more than 60 million people every year – almost the population of the UK. However, it would be worse if rice didn’t have an immune system that was designed to detect the presence of pathogens, and resist infection.
By studying how rice has evolved bespoke defence solutions against different variants of the rice blast pathogen, researchers at the John Innes Centre and the Sainsbury Laboratory (Norwich) are unravelling the molecular mechanism behind plant immunity.
The team, led by Professor Mark Banfield, have shown how rice has evolved to recognise multiple versions of a pathogen effector protein, a molecule used by the fungus to promote disease, in a sort-of “molecular handshake” that stops infection.
Further work has brought the multidisciplinary team nearer to engineering disease resistance against a range of crop pathogens.
The findings are outlined in the study titled: “Polymorphic residues in rice NLRs expand binding and response to effectors of the blast pathogen”, in the peer-reviewed Journal Nature Plants.