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In Fending Off Diseases, Plants and Animals Are Much the Same, Research Shows

Contrary to long-held beliefs, plants and animals have developed remarkably similar mechanisms for detecting microbial invasions. This holds promise for the future treatment of infectious diseases in humans.

It may have been 1 billion years since plants and animals branched apart on the evolutionary tree but down through the ages they have developed strikingly similar mechanisms for detecting microbial invasions and resisting diseases.

This revelation was arrived at over a period of 15 years by teams of researchers from seemingly disparate fields who have used classical genetic studies to unravel the mysteries of disease resistance in plants and animals, according to a historical overview that will appear in the Nov. 19 issue of the journal Science.

The report, written by Pamela Ronald, a UC Davis plant pathologist, and Bruce Beutler, an immunologist and mammalian geneticist at The Scripps Research Institute, describes how researchers have used common approaches to tease apart the secrets of immunity in species ranging from fruit flies to rice. It also forecasts where future research will lead.

"Increasingly, researchers will be intent on harnessing knowledge of host sensors to advance plant and animal health," said Ronald, who was a co-recipient of the 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Research Initiative Discovery Award for work on the genetic basis of flood tolerance in rice.

"Some of the resistance mechanisms that researchers will discover will likely serve as new drug targets to control deadly bacteria for which there are currently no effective treatments," she said.
 
 

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