New Research Sheds Light On Plant Signalling

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(September 3, 2018) - Plants rely on cell-surface receptors for their survival.

These receptors – which are often receptor kinases – are components of dynamic protein complexes that perceive and respond to molecular signals from outside the cell to control all aspects of plant life, from development to stress response. To be activated, receptor kinases require shape-complementary co-receptors that are recruited in response to specific stimuli.

In this study, researchers at The Sainsbury Laboratory (Norwich), the University of Zurich, and the University of Washington (Seattle) have identified the mechanisms by which a common plant co-receptor can regulate many different signalling pathways through protein phosphorylation in what the authors define as a ‘phosphocode’.

Professor Cyril Zipfel, now Chair of Molecular & Cellular Plant Physiology at the University of Zurich who retains a partial employment as Senior Group Leader at The Sainsbury Laboratory, said:

“This study furthers our understanding of the one of the best-characterised plant co-receptors. We now have an increased understanding of key functions controlling immunity, growth and development.”

Given the conservation of this co-receptor in plants, this novel understanding will enable the development of crop varieties with improved agronomic traits.

The impact of this study may even extend beyond the plant field, as the novel regulatory mechanism identified in this study may extend to the regulation of receptor kinases in mammals that control cancer, for example.

The results, which appears in the peer reviewed journal Nature (“Phosphocode-dependent functional dichotomy of a common co-receptor in plant signalling”), provide fresh insights into receptor kinase activation and have broad implications for our understanding of how plants grow, develop and respond to their changing environment.

Professor Cyril Zipfel