Little Wonders

These specimen of Arabidopsis, the wonder weed that has fueled countless genetic breakthroughs, are yielding important clues to solving two of plant sciences’ most vexing questions.

These specimen of Arabidopsis, the wonder weed that has fueled countless genetic breakthroughs, are yielding important clues to solving two of plant sciences’ most vexing questions: How do plants alert their internal defenses to the presence of disease and, more specifically, what role does the Enhanced Disease Susceptibility1, or EDS1, gene play in this process? For a study published in December by the journal Science, Walter Gassmann, a professor of plant sciences at MU, genetically modified the plants pictured in the foreground to hyperactivate their immune receptors, thus ensuring they would devote their internal resources to disease defense instead of growth. Gassmann and his research team then generated another modified Arabidopsis specimen — genetically identical to the first except that it also excluded the EDS1 gene — and compared the two. The result? The stunted plant stayed disease free; the EDS1-free plant (depicted here in the background) grew like a weed, but had little immunity to disease. The experiment was part of a larger research effort aimed at unraveling the mystery of plants’ disease fighting, protein-signaling pathways. Want to learn more? Denise Henderson Vaughn’s reporting on the project provides a closer look via MU’s Bond Life Sciences Center website: http://bondlsc.missouri.edu

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