Imagine the agricultural industry not having to worry about any plants falling victim to pathogens (germs that can cause disease) causing cell death. That would potentially help many farmers all around the world keep their crops safe, which in turn would help feed more people around the world. Plants are known to have a control system that helps distinguish between good and bad proteins, only allowing the good proteins to pass through the cell. This helps protect the plant from any pathogens and it’s how the plant maintains its whole immunity. If plants are missing this system they are more vulnerable to pathogens and on an agricultural scale the potential for economical loss is great.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia have taken a huge step forward in potentially helping to avoid this problem from ever being an issue. Using the model plant species Arabidopsis, they have been able to manipulate certain genes to stop cell death within the plant and enhance defence responses against harmful pathogens. They have found three Endoplasmic Reticulum quality control (ER-QC) components they believe to be primarily responsible for plant immunity: Calreticulin3 (CRT3), ER-Localized DnaJ-Like Portein 3b (ERdj3b) and Stromal-derived Factor-2 (SDF2).
Much like you and I, plants have an immune system that protects them from pathogens. There are cells in the immune system that respond to attacks by germs to prevent infection; these are called defense responses. In the following podcast, researcher Qian Zhang will go into more detail about plant immunity:
To isolate certain genes from the rest of the DNA, a process known as Polymerase Chain Reaction was used. The following video will further explain the methodology used in the research:
In the model plant Arabidopsis, a protein called BAK- interacting receptor-like kinase 1 (BIR1) helps prevent cells from spontaneously dying and prevents cells from displaying defense responses. On the other hand, there is a protein that does the exact opposite of BIR1; the protein Suppressor of BIR1 (SOBIR1) functions in the cell to make cell death and defense responses happen. When the plant has mutated BIR1 proteins, it displays the responses that are caused by SOBIR1; the cells undergo spontaneous cell death and defense responses.
Image by Hiba Rajpar
It was found that three previously mentioned ER-QC components were required for these responses to occur (we further explain what the ER-QC is in the podcast). This is because these three components are responsible for making the SOBIR1 protein. Therefore, the researchers concluded that these ER-QC’s play an important role in regulating cell death and defense responses, while still leaving room for further investigation on the roles of other ER-QC on plant cell immunity. Since no research in science is concrete, this research in plant immunity is an ongoing process.
Blog By: Komal Virk, Hiba Rajpar, Inderbir Bhullar, Kimberley Xiao
Posted in Biological sciences, Issues in science, Outreach project, Public engagement, Science communication, Science communicators
Tagged Agriculture, botany, cell death, genes, immunity, PCR, plants, research
Phosphorus is rumoured to be on the brink of depletion, and we must ask ourselves how serious is this controversy?
Phosphorus Element (from http://www.chemistry.wustl.edu/~coursedev/Online%20tutorials/Atoms/phos_entry.jpg)
In the article, “Peak Phosphorus”, by James Ulter and Stuart White, it was stated that since phosphorus has been added to fertilizers, production of crops had increased tremendously. However, due to over-exploitation of phosphorus, we are running low. To sum up the article, Ulter and White argued that if we do not change our current practices, the world will face “ a Malthusian trap of widespread famine on a scale that we have not yet experienced” (Ulter and Stuart 2).
The Mexican Sunflower (from http://content.outsidepride.com/images/products/detail/gardenflower/tithoniayellow.jpg)
On the other hand, the article, “Phosphorus: Essential to Life-Are We Running Out?”, written by Renee Cho, begs to differ. Pedro Sanchez, the director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at the Earth Institute, says there is no need to fear that we are running low on phosphorus. Moreover, his researchers discovered the Mexican Sunflower, a plant that is an efficient collector of phosphorus and can be incorporated into manure. The article also lists phosphorus efficient techniques and sources, ranging from phosphorus-efficient crops to a high quality phosphorus rock called minjingu.
The former article takes an extremist approach to the phosphorus problem, while the latter article takes a more informative approach. But which article is the more reliable source? I prefer the latter because of its unbiased views and its supporting evidence. It not only states the issue of phosphorus depletion in mines, but lists alternative methods of how it is being maintained through the improvement of agricultural techniques. This article does not attempt to hide the problem of over-exploitation, instead, it considers the problem and shares several plausible solutions. Furthermore, to strengthen their point of view, the article included analytical data and a graph of the phosphorus demand being sustained. The former article took an extreme point of view that if we do not change our practices, the human race will face grave consequences. However, the lack of evidence to support this claim makes it doubtful. Over all, I preferred the latter article because it discussed the controversy and also provided means of resolving the matter.
Now back to the question are we really running low on P? Agreeing with the second article, my answer is no. Scientists have recognized the need to practice more efficient agricultural techniques and have already begun discovering alternative phosphorus stores.
A short video on phosphorus below.