Most labs would be content with getting a single paper into a leading journal like Nature, but the Dong Lab has published two important papers in the same issue: “Global translational reprogramming is a fundamental layer of immune regulation in plants” and “uORF-mediated translation allows engineered plant disease resistance without fitness costs” (25 May 2017). The papers describe the discovery and application of a mechanism for fine-tuning plants’ immune system in order to enhance resistance to disease.
Dong’s research has long focused on the NPR1 gene, a “master regulator” of plant defense. Simply activating this gene caused the plant’s immune system to run continuously, burning energy that the plant then could not use to manufacture its food crop.
Dong’s group has now invented and tested a novel way to trigger the defense genes. The lab synthesized a combination of DNA and RNA sequences which senses when a pathogen is present and turns on the immune system. When inserted into the rice genome, the sequence created a variety of rice which has enhanced resistance to three devastating rice diseases. Because the immune system is turned on only when it is needed, the crop yield is practically unaffected.
Congratulations to first authors Guoyong Xu, Meng Yuan, George Green, Heejin Yoo and the entire team!