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Phyt or Blight

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Phytate is the most abundant inositol phosphate in plants. It chelates strongly with mineral cations (such as Fe2+/3+, Ca2+ etc) and accumulates to high levels in seeds and tubers, providing a source of nutrients for growth and development during germination. Unfortunately the high phosphate content and mineral chelating characteristics that make it so useful for plants can make it damaging to the environment and human health. Phytate cannot be digested by non-ruminant animals such as pigs and chickens and agricultural run-off can cause eutrophication of waterways. In humans, the strong chelating ability of phytate can inhibit uptake of key micronutrients leading to malnutrition. These issues have prompted the development of low-phytate crops in recent years. However, engineering reduced phytate levels to abate its negative effects may have unforeseen fitness consequences.

Previous work in arabidopsis has implicated phytate in maintenance of basal resistance to viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens. To test whether this also applies in a crop plant the final enzyme in phytate biosynthesis (IPK), was knocked down in potato using RNAi and the resistance of the resulting low-phytate plants tested using a variety of pathogens. Ny gene (NB-LRR type) mediated hypersensitive response to the ordinary strain of Potato Virus Y is impaired in the low-phytate potato lines and there is greater viral movement to systemic leaves suggesting resistance to this virus is decreased. Preliminary results from Tobacco Mosaic Virus inoculations on tobacco plants (Xanthi genotype NN) transiently expressing the potato IPK -RNAi construct also showed an impaired N-gene mediated hypersensitive response. This implies the role of phytate in major gene resistance may be conserved between plant species and this work reinforces the role of phytate as a key regulator of disease resistance mechanisms in plants.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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