Component of Plant Immune System Could Lead to Better Crops

A team of researchers has identified a protein that plays an essential role in the immune system of plants and could contribute to the enhancement of defensive changes against environmental pathogens.

The discovery offers valuable data about how plants can harness immune signaling to target threats on a molecular pathway that could be altered by crop breeders. It is theorized that the information will contribute to further research.

Mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase kinase (abbreviated conveniently as MAP4K4) is a vital component of the human immunity system, but little was known about its role in plants. The researchers learned more about it during a study that aimed to uncover proteins that are involved in signal transduction in the weedy thale cress Arabidopsis.

A Component of Plant Immune System Could Lead to Better Crops

By observing healthy plants that contain the protein and mutant versions were MAP4K4 is absent, the team learned more about the core functions of the protein. One of the most important facts is that MAP4K4 is mandatory for immune responses to flg22, a peptide derived from a bacterial protein that is found in the filamentous flagellum of microbes that can cause diseases.

Further research reveals that MAP4K4 will add chemical tags at the sites of a protein called BIK1. The tags will stabilize BIK 1 and contribute to the production of molecules that are needed to increase pathogen resistance. It was also observed that the tags would disable the negative regulator and further enhance the activation of BIK1.

Additional research has been planned as the researchers will harness the capabilities of the CRISPR-cAS9 gene-editing tool to create new plants and examine the role of other proteins related to MAP4K4, as at least ten exist and are spread across different plants. The creation of plants with superior immune systems would be a great boon since it would limit the use of pesticides and other chemicals that are currently needed for many crops.