Similar to humans, plants can be sickened by infection with bacteria and other pathogens, resulting in crop losses of over $500 billion every year. Dr. Wolf Frommer of the Carnegie Institution, funded in part by the Common Fund’s Metabolomics program, has identified how pathogens “hijack” plant cells to divert nutrients away from the plant for their own use. In the November 24th online edition of the journal Nature, Dr. Frommer and colleagues describe a new family of proteins, called SWEETs, which transport sugar out of the plant cell. Several different types of pathogens can cause increased production of SWEET proteins, thereby releasing more sugar from the plant cell to be consumed by the pathogen as food. Mutations in a rice SWEET protein confer resistance to bacterial blight, indicating that interfering with the action of SWEETs may provide a new method to block a broad range of pathogenic infections and reduce crop losses. Interestingly, SWEETs are present in animals as well, including mice and humans, and may play a role in sugar transport from liver and intestinal cells. A better understanding of SWEET proteins may have important implications for the health of plants and humans alike.
Chen LQ, Hou BH, Lalonde S, Takanaga H, Hartung ML, Qu XQ, Guo WJ, Kim JG, Underwood W, Chaudhuri B, Chermak D, Antony G, White FF, Somerville SC, Mudgett MB, Frommer WB. Sugar transporters for intracellular exchange and nutrition of pathogens. Nature, 2010 Nov 25; 468(7323): 527-32. PMID: 21107422.
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