Parasitic bacteria turns plants into ‘zombies’

Parasitic bacteria turns plants into ‘zombies’
Parasitic bacteria turns plants into ‘zombies’

Bacteria Parasites apply a manipulation mechanism to delay plant aging that could offer new ways to protect crops threatened by disease.

The parasites they manipulate the organisms they live on to suit their needs, sometimes drastically. In the case of some plants, when they are under the effect of a parasite undergo changes so wide that they are described as “zombies“explains the study. They stop reproducing and only serve as a habitat and host for parasitic pathogens.

How does this parasite affect plants?

Until now, it was not very well known how this happened at the molecular and mechanical level, but an investigation by the Hogenhout group of the John Innes Center and its collaborators, in the United Kingdom, published in the journal ‘Cell’, has identified a manipulative molecule produced by the bacteria ‘Phytoplasma’ to hijack the development of the plant.

When inside a plant, this protein causes key growth regulators to break down, triggering abnormal growth.

The bacteria ‘Phytoplasma’ belong to a group of microbes famous for their ability to reprogram the development of their plants Guest. This group of bacteria it is usually responsible for the “witch brooms” seen on trees, where an excessive number of branches grow together.

These bushy buds are the result of the plant she is trapped in a vegetative “zombie” state, unable to reproduce and, therefore, to progress to a state of “eternal youth”.

The bacteria It can also cause devastating crop diseases, such as aster yellow, which causes significant yield losses in grain and leaf crops, such as lettuce, carrots, and cereals.

Professor Saskia Hogenhout, corresponding author of the study, explains that “phytoplasmas are a spectacular example of how the reach of genes can be extended beyond organisms to impact surrounding environments.”

“Our discoveries shed new light on a molecular mechanism behind this expanded phenotype that could help solve a major problem for food production,” he added in a statement. “We highlight a promising strategy for plant engineering to achieve a long-lasting level of resistance of crops to phytoplasmas.”

Behind the bacteria, a protein

The new findings show how the bacterial protein known as SAP05 manipulates the plants taking advantage of part of the host’s own molecular machinery.

This machinery, called a proteasome, often breaks down proteins that are no longer needed within plant cells. SAP05 hijacks this process, causing the proteins of the plants that are important for regulating growth and development are thrown into a molecular recycling center.

Without these proteins, the development of plant it is reprogrammed to favor the bacteria, which triggers the growth of multiple shoots and vegetative tissues and pauses the aging of the plant.

Through genetic and biochemical experiments on the model plant ‘Arabidopsis thaliana’, the team discovered in detail the role of SAP05.

Interestingly, SAP05 binds directly to plant developmental proteins and the proteasome. Direct binding is a newfound way to break down proteins. Normally, proteins that are degraded by the proteasome are labeled with a molecule called ubiquitin beforehand, but this is not the case.

The plant development proteins that SAP05 targets are similar to proteins also found in animals. The team was curious to see if SAP05 also affected the insects that carry the bacteria of a plant to another. They found that the structure of these host proteins in animals differs enough that they do not interact with SAP05, so insects are not affected.

However, this research allowed the team to pinpoint only two amino acids in the proteasome unit that are required to interact with SAP05. His research showed that. if the plant proteins are changed to have the two amino acids found in the insect protein, they are no longer degraded by SAP05, preventing the abnormal growth of the “witch’s broom”.

This finding offers the possibility of modifying only these two amino acids in crops, for example, using gene editing technologies, to provide long-lasting resistance to phytoplasmas and the effects of SAP05.

With information from Europa Press

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