United States Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service
Did you know that your body contains millions of tiny
soldiers to protect it? Yep, like when you fall and skin your knee.
Immediately, thousands of teeny-weeny, microscopic good guys called antibodies
rush to the injury. They keep your skin from getting infected by bacteria in
the dirt or on the sidewalk where you fell.
The antibody army is part of your own
immune system. Plants have a similar
kind of built-in protection. When a bug lands on a plant leaf and starts to
chew it, something in its spit, or saliva, tells the plant that its time
to start fighting back. These somethings are PR proteins.
Okay, pop quiz time. Aw, quit whining. It'll be fun!
Here goes: What do you think the PR stands for?
PR proteins start operating when an outside enemy like
an insect or a disease attacks a plant. But sometimes the damage from outside
invaders can overwhelm a plant before the proteins can shift into high gear.
These proteins need more help, so the plant has a better
chance to save itself. And thats just what Agricultural Research Service
chemist Hamed Doostdar is trying to do.
Doostdar and his colleagues at the U.S. Horticultural
Research Laboratory in Orlando, Florida, have found the genes responsible for
making PR proteins in citrus. By tinkering with these genes, they hope to make
the plants produce more PR proteins.
The Orlando scientists are doing other neat things to
help plants better protect themselves. On tomato plants, theyre spraying safe chemicals that
cause a chemical reaction in the plants. This reaction keeps insects, like
leafminers, from eating the plant.
If plants can better defend themselves, farmers and
gardeners could rely less on chemicals to protect their crops from insects and
diseases. Not only would this help keep the environment cleaner, but it would
also save farmers money.
By Doris Stanley, formerly with the Information
Staff, Agricultural Research Service
To learn more, check out theAgricultural Research story
Exploiting Plants' Protective Proteins.
U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory, Orlando, Fla.