Smart crops

Published: Tuesday 30 November 1999

US researchers have pointed out that it may be possible to have plants in which disease-causing fungi could be fooled into committing suicide. This could be achieved either by spraying plants with substances that trigger fungal suicide or by putting in genes in the plants to make them powerful 'suicide pills' themselves. The findings are centred around an anti-fungal compound produced by tobacco plants called osmotin. All plants produce the compound, but not potent enough to prevent fungal diseases. Paul Hasegawa of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and his colleagues have identified a receptor -- a glycoprotein -- on the outer wall of yeast to which osmotin binds itself. Thereafter, osmotin sends a signal to the nucleus of the yeast, triggering it off to commit suicide through a programmed cell death. The researchers are now focusing on Fusarium oxysporum , a fungus that causes vascular wilt, a major corn disease ( New Scientist , Vol 163, No 2204).

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