Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Crop Vaccination without Side-Effects

Researchers have uncovered a mechanism by which plants defend themselves against disease-causing pathogens, raising the prospect of vaccinating crops.

The international team identified the key receptor that binds ß-aminobutyric acid (BABA), which boosts plant immunity. BABA has protective effects against devastating plant diseases such as potato blight, but has so far not been widely used in crop protection because of its side-effects.

Dr Oliver Berkowitz of the University of Western Australia, who co-authored the research reported in Nature Chemical Biology, said that while reduced growth was a side-effect this “can be uncoupled from the beneficial immune reaction. Since plant immunisation by BABA is long-lasting, primed crops would require fewer applications of fungicides, thereby increasing sustainability of crop protection.”

Dr Jurriaan Ton of the University of Sheffield said that immune priming boosts multi-gene resistance in plants. “Plant immunity that is controlled by a single resistance gene … is comparably easy to overcome by a pathogen,” he said. “By contrast, priming of multi-genic immunity by BABA is difficult to break, thus offering more durable crop protection.”

Although the research was performed in the laboratory model Arabidopsis thaliana, experiments have already shown that BABA is detected in a similar manner in tomatoes.