Fighting Back

Plants can’t run away from attackers, so they’ve evolved unique immune defenses to protect themselves.

Feb 1, 2016
Mary Beth Aberlin

ANDRZEJ KRAUZEBotany has never been my strong suit, but this month’s focus on plant biology reminded me, yet again, what botanists already know: plants are amazing. Darwin, whose birthday is this month, described himself in an 1846 letter to the great botanist Joseph Hooker as “a man who hardly knows a daisy from a Dandelion.” But Darwin wrote a number of books about plants in his continuing effort to understand and test his conceptions about some of the more difficult predictions of evolution, including a book titled The Power of Movement in Plants. Published in 1880 to scant interest, the book never enjoyed much popularity, and after his death in 1882 was not reprinted for 84 years.

Although they employ various methods of pollination and seed dispersal to propagate their offspring, most terrestrial plants are securely rooted to one spot. They can’t run away from bacterial or fungal attackers, and thus have developed a two-pronged immunological system in order to stand up for themselves. Read all about it in “Holding Their Ground.” Some plants have even recruited a mobile defense in the form of friendly fungi that migrate to the site of pathogen attack (here).

A mnemonic popular with gardeners also touches on content in this issue: “Plant peas on President’s Day.” Or, as some would have it, St. Patrick’s Day. Exactly when you perform this earliest spring gardening task obviously depends on where you live, and it has been suggested that Gregor Mendel may have adhered to a similar dictum in the Brünn monastery garden where he did his famous pea-crossing experiments. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Mendel’s “Experiments in Plant Hybridization,” another publication that aroused little to no interest for decades before resurfacing to worldwide recognition. In a Foundations article, TS intern Karen Zusi covers the debate that raged in 1902 about Mendel’s newly rediscovered data, its veracity, and what it really showed about the inheritance of traits.

Other plant biology topics covered in articles in the issue include the editing of plant genomes using CRISPR but no plasmids; a pollen rehydration mechanism; and profiles of two plant biologists (here and here).

From plant immune defenses and defenders/detractors of Mendel, we shift to the second focus in this issue: antibodies. Famous as they are for battling pathogen attacks in vertebrates, our objective was to examine antibodies as research tools and therapeutic vehicles—their validation, their use in drug delivery, and their eventual sharing of the stage in research and therapeutics with molecules that bypass some of their disadvantages.

Over the last few years we’ve covered the problems arising from the lack of reproducibility of research results, and a lot of the blame seems to lie squarely on the antibodies used to study all sorts of interactions. “Exercises for Your Abs” reports on validation procedures and techniques to ensure that your chosen antibody is actually targeting the protein you are studying. “Marriages of Opportunity” updates our coverage of advances in drug delivery using antibody-drug conjugates. And the pros and cons of using nucleic acid aptamers and protein scaffolds as antibody alternatives is the subject of a feature by Avacta Life Sciences writer Jane McLeod and CSO Paul Ko Ferrigno, who codeveloped and patented engineered protein scaffolds called “affimers” that the company sells.

In March we will be roaring in with a special issue all about sleep research. Rest up; we hope the content will keep you burning the midnight oil. 

Mary Beth Aberlin  Editor-in-Chief

September 2018

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