Plants, animals use similar mechanism when fending off diseases

November 19th, 2010 - 6:20 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Nov 19 (ANI): Through the ages, plants and animals have developed strikingly similar mechanisms for detecting microbial invasions and resisting diseases, says a new study.

This revelation is a result 15 years of study by researchers from seemingly disparate fields who have used classical genetic studies to unravel the mysteries of disease resistance in plants and animals.

The report, written by Pamela Ronald, a UC Davis plant pathologist, and Bruce Beutler, an immunologist and mammalian geneticist at The Scripps Research Institute, describes how researchers have used common approaches to tease apart the secrets of immunity in species ranging from fruit flies to rice. It also forecasts where future research will lead.

“Increasingly, researchers will be intent on harnessing knowledge of host sensors to advance plant and animal health,” said Ronald, who was a co-recipient of the 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Research Initiative Discovery Award for work on the genetic basis of flood tolerance in rice.

“Some of the resistance mechanisms that researchers will discover will likely serve as new drug targets to control deadly bacteria for which there are currently no effective treatments,” she added.

At the heart of this research saga are receptors — protein molecules usually found on cell membranes — that recognize and bind to specific molecules on invading organisms, signaling the plant or animal in which the receptor resides to mount an immune response and fend off microbial infection and disease.

While the past 15 years have been rich in significant discoveries related to plant and animal immunity, Beutler and Ronald are quick to point out that researchers have just scratched the surface.

“If you think of evolution as a tree and existing plant and animal species as the leaves on the tips of the tree’s branches, it is clear that we have examined only a few of those leaves and have only a fragmentary impression of what immune mechanisms exist now and were present in the distant past,” said Beutler, an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Ronald and Beutler project that many surprises will be uncovered by future research as it probes the disease-resistance mechanisms of other species.

The study is published in the journal Science. (ANI)

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