NIAB - National Institute of Agricultural Botany

Back to News and Events

INDUSTRY NEWS: Scientists transfer pathogen-sensing ‘antenna’ gene to wheat

12 March 2015

A team of scientists from the John Innes Centre (JIC), the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) have successfully transferred a receptor that recognises bacteria from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana - a dicot, to wheat – a monocot. They showed that the receptor can trigger a defensive response and confers increased resistance to bacterial disease. The research findings demonstrate that the signalling pathways or circuitry downstream of the receptor are conserved between evolutionary distant monocots and dicots.

Drs Henk-jan Schoonbeek and Christopher Ridout, the lead and corresponding authors of a paper published in The New Phytologist today, first developed diagnostic tools which tests wheat for responses to pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). These PAMPs are often essential parts of fungi or bacteria - they would find it difficult to mutate or lose them without affecting their fitness or survival. Pattern recognition receptors recognise and confer a response to such PAMPs and could contribute to durable resistance. The authors have demonstrated that wheat has the circuitry to respond to these pathogens but not all the antennae required to perceive pathogens most effectively.

The JIC scientists worked with TSL and the crop transformation team at NIAB to transfer a receptor gene, EFR, conferring recognition of the widespread bacterial protein EF-Tu, from Arabidopsis to wheat, and used their diagnostic tools to show that the receptor was functional. EFR works like a new antenna that activates defence elements already present and makes the wheat plants more resistant to bacteria. Since EF-Tu is essential, the authors predict this type of resistance should be durable. EFR was first identified by Professor Cyril Zipfel, Head of TSL, and co-author of the paper. Prof Zipfel pioneered inter-species transfer of PRRs, and recently reported a converse transfer of a monocot PRR to dicot plants, further illustrating the ancient evolutionary conservation of immune signalling between these plant classes.

Bacterial wheat diseases are widespread in Asia and Africa[1], and present in the USA. The diagnostic tool can be used immediately to help breeders screen seed varieties for PAMP recognition, and therefore resistance to multiple bacterial pathogens.

Chris Ridout said: “Our work demonstrates the importance of developing this type of resistance in wheat. As the wheat genome is sequenced further and we continue our analysis of receptor genes in dicots, we hope to identify more genes that can be used to develop durable resistance, not only to bacterial diseases, but to the most important fungal pathogens of wheat such as yellow rust, Septoria and powdery mildew.”

 [1] The Bacterial Disease of Wheat – Concepts and methods of disease management, CIMMYT, 1997; P25 & 26.

The paper has been published on The New Phytologist website

Notes to Editors 

About the John Innes Centre (JIC)

Our mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge of nature’s diversity to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and engage with policy makers and the public.

To achieve these goals we establish pioneering long-term research objectives in plant and microbial science, with a focus on genetics. These objectives include promoting the translation of research through partnerships to develop improved crops and to make new products from microbes and plants for human health and other applications. We also create new approaches, technologies and resources that enable research advances and help industry to make new products. The knowledge, resources and trained researchers we generate help global societies address important challenges including providing sufficient and affordable food, making new products for human health and industrial applications, and developing sustainable bio-based manufacturing.

This provides a fertile environment for training the next generation of plant and microbial scientists, many of whom go on to careers in industry and academia, around the world. 

About The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL)

The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) is a world-leading research centre focusing on making fundamental discoveries about plants and how they interact with microbes. TSL not only provides fundamental biological insights into plant-pathogen interactions, but is also delivering novel, genomics-based, solutions which will significantly reduce losses from major diseases of food crops, especially in developing countries. TSL is an independent charitable company and receives strategic funding from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation with the balance coming from competitive grants and contracts from a range of public and private bodies, including the European Union (EU), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and commercial and charitable organisations www.tsl.ac.uk. 

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. 

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £484M in world-class bioscience in 2013-14. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes 

About NIAB

NIAB is a major international centre for plant research, crop evaluation and agronomy – a unique national resource, with nearly 100 years of experience and an internationally recognised reputation for independence, innovation and integrity. With headquarters in Cambridge and regional offices across the country, NIAB spans the crop development pipeline, with the specialist knowledge, skills and facilities required to support the improvement of agricultural and horticultural crop varieties, to evaluate their performance and quality, and to ensure these advances are transferred into on-farm practice through efficient agronomy.