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Home » Plant immunity gets a boost: Tiny liquid droplets power up defense proteins

Plant immunity gets a boost: Tiny liquid droplets power up defense proteins

Plants, like us, have sophisticated immune systems to fight off invaders. A recent study published in Nature sheds light on a surprising method plants employ to activate a crucial class of immune . Researchers led by Jijie Chai and a collaborative team have discovered that these proteins condense into tiny liquid droplets within the cell, acting like a power-up to trigger their protective function.

The study focused on a group of immune called Toll/Interleukin-1 receptor (TIR) nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat (NLR) receptors (TNLs). TNLs are like the bodyguards of the plant kingdom, equipped with specialized domains to recognize and combat . However, a specific type of TNL, known as TIR domain proteins, lacks the usual pathogen recognition tools. Despite this, they still play a vital role in plant defense.

The mystery researchers aimed to solve was how these TIR domain proteins become activated. Their surprising discovery revealed that as the concentration of these proteins increases within the cell, they undergo a fascinating transformation. They clump together, forming condensed liquid droplets akin to oil droplets in water. This , known as phase separation, isn't just a passive gathering; it's a crucial step in their activation.

The researchers observed a dynamic process within these droplets. TIR domain proteins constantly enter and exit, suggesting a constantly churning assembly line. This dynamic organization serves a specific purpose: it significantly boosts the 's enzymatic activity, allowing them to effectively trigger the plant's defense response, often leading to controlled cell death at the infection site to prevent the spread of the pathogen.

This finding not only unveils a novel activation mechanism for plant immunity but also highlights the importance of phase separation in various biological processes. While this phenomenon was known to play a role in animal immunity, its significance in plants remained unclear.

The study has broader implications beyond understanding individual protein function. The discovery suggests a potential link between different branches of plant immunity. Co-author Schulze-Lefert emphasizes the intriguing diversity observed in how TIR domains assemble within larger protein complexes. He marvels at how has repeatedly harnessed this protein structure across various organisms, imbuing it with crucial for robust immune system function.

This research opens new avenues for exploring the intricate communication network within plant immune responses. Understanding these mechanisms paves the way for developing novel strategies to protect crops from diseases and enhance overall plant health.

Source: Max Planck Society