A new actor in the immune system of plants has been identified. KAUST scientists have identified the protein MAP4K4 is needed to mount proper defenses against environmental pathogens.
The discovery helps explain the tight control of immune signaling in plants and reveals targets in a molecular pathway that could be manipulated by crop breeders. “Our findings are directly applicable to make plants more resistant to pathogens,” says study author, Heribert Hirt, professor of plant science at KAUST’s Center for Desert Agriculture.
MAP4K4 (short for mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase kinase 4) is a well-established player in human immunity and inflammation, but its role in plant disease resistance was unknown. Hirt and his collaborators stumbled on it during a large screen for proteins involved in signal transduction in the weedy thale cress Arabidopsis. By studying mutant plants that lack a working copy of MAP4K4, Hirt’s team then drilled down into the core functions of this protein.
Image: Heribert Hirt (left) and Yunhe Jiang check their plants for signs of disease.
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