4 years ago

The Partnership no. 10

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Science Closing in on

Science Closing in on phytopathology Knowledge of DNA is growing tremendously, creating ever more opportunities and possibilities in phytopathology, too. Extensive research shows phytopathologists which piece or pieces of a plant’s DNA play(s) an active role in protecting the plant against pathogens. “Classic phytopathology focuses on how a disease develops,” says Manager Phytopathology Karin Posthuma. “The discipline is all about visual observation of symptoms of diseases, knowledge of pathogens, and deliberately infecting plants with pathogens in order to identify resistances. Those aspects are still important, but our studies now also include molecular phytopathology, which involves finding out what actually happens in a plant when a pathogen enters it.” Molecular phytopathology What do we actually know about the dialogue between plants and pathogens? What it boils down to is that plants have sensors that emit a warning signal when foreign substances enter the plant. Like other living beings, most plant pathogens have DNA, RNA and proteins. The plant’s sensors recognise the pathogens’ proteins and the plant responds to them. In a resistant plant, recognition of infection will effectively render the pathogen harmless; in susceptible plants, this recognition does not occur and plants will become sick. Burglar system All this may sound very simple, but things are actually fairly complicated. Pathogens can adapt very easily and very quickly, causing them to go undetected by a plant’s sensors. Posthuma compares it with home security: “Say your burglar system identifies burglars by their yellow jackets. The system will work fine until a burglar decides to wear a blue or green jacket instead of a yellow one; then your system will no longer emit a warning signal.” 14 | The Partnership

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