Plant Survival and How It Works

Plant Survival and How It Works

Have you ever thought about the fact that everything in the natural world directly or indirectly eats plants? Not just animal life but bacteria, viruses, and pathogens also attack plants. So how do plants keep from being wiped out? Recent Duke University research headed by Xinnian Dong shows that similar to animals, plant survival depends on an immune system.

The difference is that animals are protected by specialized immune cells that travel through the bloodstream to a place of infection. A plant doesn’t have that means of resisting an attack. Instead of traveling immune cells, each plant cell has a built-in resistance to infection. Each cell synthesizes new proteins to attack an infection while suppressing the normal functions of photosynthesis and growth.

A plant must perform a complex balancing act. The infection will destroy the plant if it doesn’t produce enough defense proteins. If the plant produces too much defense protein, its growth will be stunted. Plant biologists are still trying to understand how plants can resist infection while still growing and carrying on their normal functions. That ability seems to be built into the design of the plant’s DNA.

Understanding the plant survival defense system and how it works will address one of humanity’s significant problems. Fifteen percent of all crops are lost to bacterial and fungal diseases, translating into some 220 billion dollars. With the growing need for food, we must find new ways to increase the productivity of plants by reducing the losses to disease.

When you look at a plant, you might think it’s a simple thing whose functions we understand. However, every plant is a showcase for the wisdom and design of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The National Science Foundation in its Research News for September 20, 2022, and the journal Cell