U.S. Department of Energy

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Paper in PNAS: How a Plant Beckons the Bacteria That Will Do It Harm

Work on microbial signaling offers a window into better biofuels, human health

A common plant puts out a welcome mat to bacteria seeking to invade, and scientists at the University of Missouri and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have discovered the mat's molecular mix.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals new targets during the battle between microbe and host that researchers can exploit to protect plants. The team showed that the humble and oft-studied plant Arabidopsis puts out a molecular signal that invites an attack from a pathogen. It's as if a hostile army were unknowingly passing by a castle, and the sentry stood up and yelled, "Over here!"-focusing the attackers on a target they would have otherwise simply passed by.

"This signaling system triggers a structure in bacteria that actually looks a lot like a syringe, which is used to inject virulence proteins into its target. It's exciting to learn that metabolites excreted by the host can play a role in triggering this system in bacteria," said Dr. Thomas Metz, an author of the paper and a chemist at PNNL.

The findings come from a collaboration led by the University of Missouri that includes researchers from the university, the Biological Sciences Division at PNNL, and EMSL.



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