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Researchers shed light on how rice blast fungus invades plant tissue

 

Like a stealthy enemy, blast disease invades rice crops around the world, killing plants and cutting production of one of the most important global food sources.

Now, a study by an international team of researchers has shed light on how the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae, invades plant tissue. The finding is a step toward learning how to control the disease, which by some estimates destroys enough rice to feed 60 million people annually.

The team, led by Barbara Valent, Kansas State University distinguished professor in plant pathology, found that the fungus has evolved two distinct secretion systems that facilitate its invasion into rice plants. Study results have been published by Nature’s new online journal, Nature Communications: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2013/130618/ncomms2996/abs/ncomms2996.html.

“Knowing that a special secretion system is required for disease is significant, because it means we can block this system without harming other fungi that are critical for healthy ecosystems,” Valent said.

In addition to researchers from Kansas State University, the team includes professor Nicholas Talbot, from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, and students in his laboratory, as well as scientists from the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center in Japan.

Rice blast has been known throughout recorded history and occurs in all countries where rice is grown, including the U.S. In 1985, wheat blast emerged as a new disease sharply reducing wheat yields in Brazil. So far, wheat blast has only spread within South America and has not been detected in the U.S. Valent is now leading a team of scientists focused on developing resources for rapid identification and elimination of the disease if it should arrive in U.S. wheat regions.

“Rice blast disease is a threat to global food security and it’s closely related to wheat blast,” Valent said. “Because those two crops are the most important food staples worldwide, learning about these diseases is incredibly important.”

Researchers know that to cause plant diseases, pathogenic microorganisms secrete proteins, called effector proteins, into the host plant’s tissue, Valent said. The proteins suppress the plant’s immunity and support the pathogen’s growth. The goal of the study was to learn if fungi need different secretory systems to aid their invasion into host plants.