Getting defensive

The paper:

D. Chinchilla et al., "A flagellin-induced complex of the receptor FLS2 and BAK1 initiates plant defence," Nature, 448:497– 501, 2007. (Cited in 66 papers)

The finding:

A team of European researchers led by Thomas Boller of the University of Basel, Switzerland, challenged Arabidopsis thaliana plants with bacterial peptides, and found that mutants that lacked the gene for the co-receptor brassinosteroid insensitive 1 (BRI1)-associated receptor kinase 1 (BAK1) were more susceptible to infection. This suggested that BAK1, which was known to function in growth and development, also serves a critical role in helping plants sense and respond to infiltration by a broad range of microbes.

The impact:

The paper was "really fundamental" in revealing the molecular pathways that plant cells use to sense microbial molecules on their surfaces and mount intracellular signaling cascades, says Libo Shan, a Texas A&M University plant molecular biologist. "It opened up...

The tie-in:

Boller's team demonstrated that BAK1 interacts with flagellinsensitive 2 (FLS2), an immunity-related plant receptor. But BAK1 was previously known to regulate BRI1, an important regulator of growth and development in plants. "This shows a potential antagonism between growth and development and innate immunity," says study author Cyril Zipfel of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK.

The application:

Zipfel and his colleagues are now collaborating with agricultural scientists to find better ways to protect tomato and potato plants from microbial infection. "We can try to transfer the knowledge we gain in Arabidopsis thaliana into crop plants," he says.

Maximum immune response in leaves (in relative light units)
Wild-type: 500
Partial BAK1 mutant: 200
BAK1 knockout: 0

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