A team of researchers led by Professor Declan Bates from the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB) and Professor Katherine Denby from the University of York has developed a genetic control system that would enable plants to strengthen their defense response against deadly pathogens so they could remain healthy and productive. When pathogens attack, they target the plants' immune response, making the plants vulnerable and weak. Using experimental data generated by Prof. Denby, Professor Bates' group simulated a pathogen attack in Arabidopsis plants, and modelled a way to rewire the plants' gene network, creating a defensive feedback control system to fight disease - which works in much the same way as an aircraft autopilot. Just as an aircraft's autopilot control system detects disturbances such as wind gusts or turbulence, and acts to reject them, this new plant control system detects a pathogen attack, and prevents the pathogen from weakening the plants' defense response. This method could make crops more resilient against disease, and help mitigate crop wastage around the world. (Source: Crop Biotech Update, International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. www.isaaa.org)
A fungal pathogen infecting a plant.