Novel tool identified in fight against crop disease

Posted on February 21, 2018 in News by . Share this article

A new study from The University of Sheffield’s P3 centre, (Plant Production and Protection) led by Professors Jurriaan Ton and Beining Chen, has discovered a new priming compound that can prime resistance against a broad range of diseases.

By adopting RBH as a priming agent in plant species such as tomato, growers could protect their crops against a range of plant diseases without negatively impacting yields. Crop pathogens are a substantial drain on world food production; an estimated 20% of global yields are lost every year to disease. Current efforts to limit disease losses are heavily reliant on the use of pesticides, often associated with significant economic and environmental costs, or breeding of resistant crop varieties, which can take decades. Even where effective disease control exists, the combination of rising temperatures and unpredictable weather events could accelerate reproduction of pathogens, increasing the likelihood of them evolving resistance against fungicides or genetic resistance.

Utilising the crop plant’s immune system to resist pathogen attack is an under-investigated approach. More specifically, the plant immune system can be sensitised or ‘primed’ to respond more quickly and strongly upon detection of pathogens, thereby better protecting the plant against attack. Previous use of priming-inducing chemicals has proved effective in protecting plants from pathogens and thus staving off disease. However, application of many priming chemicals have proved to be commercially not viable as they often stunt plant growth, reduce yield and build up as chemical residues in crop products.  

The new discovery by P3 has crucially achieved the improvement in resistance without stunting plant growth. Through a combination of chemical and genetic research approaches in the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, the team discovered a new priming compound, known as RBH ((R)-B-homoserine). This molecule was found to improve plant resistance by priming natural plant defences against pathogen attack, such as the strengthening of the plant cell wall. Importantly, the team demonstrated that the compound also protects tomato plants against disease without stunting growth of this crop. The principles of this study could be applied to other crop plants such as lettuce, cucumber or strawberries.

Will Buswell first author of the paper said “This research is highly significant because we’ve identified a novel tool in the fight against crop disease, and we’ve taken first steps to understanding how this compound works”. Jurriaan Ton corresponding author and Co-Director of P3 added that “In addition to its translational potential, RBH could help us to uncover unknown mechanisms of the plant immune system and give us further clues about how plants manage the trade-off between plant defence and growth. Current research in our lab focuses on identifying the signalling mechanisms by which RBH boost plant immunity”.

The P3 centre has state-of-the-art growing facilities with 9 separate experimental growing environments. These world class facilities are run by talented scientists who continue to lead research into enhancing global food security.

Twitter: @P3_PlantScience @will_buswell @ELunaDiez