Plant Protection – What Scientists Know About the Amazing Ways They Immune Themselves to Disease!

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When it comes to plants, most of us find it amusing when a green thumb explains how they get their plants to grow healthy by saying “I sing to my plants!”

The source of this amusement, of course, is that the person is assigning a human characteristic (i.e. love of music) to plants. But do plants have other human-like behavior besides a love of Beyoncé or the Beatles? What if plants also had the ability to fight off diseases in an immune-like manner not unlike those of the human body?

An article in detailed some of the natural abilities plants possessed in fighting diseases. Scientists are studying these abilities in an ongoing effort to learn how to harness and use a plants’ natural ability to defend themselves. Such understanding would give growers new crop protection tools.

We have known for a long time that plants can resist disease, just not HOW they do it.

The fact that plants become more resistant to other infections after surviving a disease has known by scientists for over 100 years. What’s only recently been researched is how they do it. Scientists are now studying the mechanism behind this ability inherent in plants. Unlocking this mystery would help growers harness plants’ natural ability to defend themselves. And, it would provide new crop protection tools.

What IS known about plants’ natural protection mechanisms?

Scientists site two types of induced resistance evident in plants, although they admit there might be more. They are systemic acquired resistance (SAR) and induced systemic resistance (ISR). The two are distinguished by the different ways in which the immune response is elicited.

SAR – a plant’s rapid response mechanism

It is known that some plants have a localized, rapid response to invasion by certain insects, fungi or pathogens called the hypersensitive response (HR). This involves resistance genes (R) reacting to avirulence genes (avr) in the invading organism. There is a chemical signal triggering a hypersensitive response that quickly causes the death of plant cells at the point of invasion. This seals off the infected area and prevents the spreading of the infection to the rest of the plant. Other genes are produced which produce proteins signaling additional defense responses in the plant or to kill the pathogen directly. Scientists seek to identify pairs of avr and R genes so they can be introduced into other plants for protection.

ISR is triggered by beneficial microbes

Beneficial microbes in the soil are a source of a plant’s systemic resistance in both roots and foliage. They increase absorption of nutrients as well as trigger systemic resistance. Because the method of eliciting the response is different (beneficial soil microbes vs. pathogen/pest) this type of resistance is called induced systemic resistance.

In short, the ongoing understanding of how plants immune themselves to disease make singing to them less farcical than one might think!

The Key Corporate Services Horticulture, Agriculture and CPG Executive Recruiter and Search Division specializes in placing elite professionals within these industries. We work with companies of all sizes, from privately held companies to large agricultural corporations with both a national and international presence. Contact us for more information.


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