Scientists from Wageningen University in The Netherlands, and The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, have identified a gene which enhances the resistance of plants against potato late blight.
Following a ten year search the gene, known as ELR, was discovered in Solanum microdontum, a wild relative of the cultivated potato from South America. The gene targets production of elicitin; a conserved protein with an important biological function, making it less likely that the pathogen will evolve to evade resistance. Plants contain many of these cell surface receptors that constitute the first line of immune defence, like an array of radar antennas, each one tuned to a different but conserved feature of the invading pathogens.
Vivianne Vleeshouwers, breeding research expert at Wageningen University, commented; ”We identified a gene responsible for a totally new line of defence in wild relatives of potato. We hope that this will help us to tackle late blight.”
Researchers hope that transferring the ELR gene into cultivated potatoes could make them more resistant to strains of late blight while also increasing the durability of that resistance.