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Collaborative Success Stories: Leveling the Field

University of Missouri researchers have discovered that high levels of plant organic acids could prevent bacterial attacks.

Plant pathogens—bacteria that cause disease in plants—can survive in the environment for years. One reason for their resilience is they save energy by activating their infection machinery only in the presence of a plant cell. But how do they know when it’s time to power up? That question has puzzled scientists—until now.

Researchers at the MU Bond Life Sciences Center, led by biochemist Scott Peck, discovered that bacterium is triggered to attack when it detects the presence of sugar together with five particular acids. However, the quantity of acids dramatically affects the bacteria’s response. While low concentrations of these five acids trigger the bacteria’s attack, high levels prevent the bacteria from detecting the plant at all.

Peck believes high levels of these acids could be used to hinder bacterial growth—helping to develop plants that are more resistant to infection and create natural defenses for plants that could render bacteria harmless. The team’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Scott Peck is an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry, which is affiliated with the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the School of Medicine.

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Related Initiative(s):
Food for the Future