Researchers have now discovered how the potato blight pathogen sharpens its knife when attacking a plant by slicing open its skin, a June 13 news release from Wageningen University and Research said. Last year, the team found out how the potato blight pathogen uses a “sharp knife” to cut into potato plants and infect them, but they didn’t know how the microscopic attackers sharpen their weapons.
The late blight pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, hitchhikes on water droplets during rainfall, and when it lands on the leaf, an ingenious mechanism is activated, the release said. The single-celled water mold contains an internal skeleton in the tubular structure it wields as its weapon of attack.
“The scientists discovered that this cell skeleton, formed from threadlike proteins, in no-time – within 10 seconds – detects the contact with the plant and senses how strong the plant pushes back. Using this information, the cell regroups its proteins to form a ninja-like blade with a sharp point, which it uses to cut open the leaf,” the release said.
The researchers also found that the same mechanism, which they call a mechanostat, makes sure that the tip of the tubular weapon remains sharp throughout the infection process, like a self-sharpening knife.
“Since the weapon is made from the same materials as the plant, without this trick, it would quickly become blunt and unable to cut. By forming increasingly strong threads of proteins at the tip of the tube, the mechanostat takes care that the blade remains sharp during the cutting process.”
The release noted that now that it’s clear how Phytophthora begins its infectious lifestyle in the plant, the next step is to investigate pest controls. The new research project will begin shortly.