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Plants Use Molecular Clock To Bolster Immune System, Scientists Find

Update Date: Dec 17, 2015 01:41 PM EST

With their internal molecular clock, plants seem to have an inbuilt 'astrological' system!

They are able to see which infections are likely to occur and are also able to coordinate their immune responses better, say researchers from the University of Warwick.

It is at dawn when fungal infections are likely to happen that the immune system shoots up and isolates a single protein, JAZ6, which drives the time-dependent procedure.

"Plants are able to predict when pathogen infection is more likely to occur and regulate their immune response to combat this, with plants being more resistant to infection after inoculation at dawn compared to inoculation at night," said Katherine Denby, lead researcher of the study, in a press release.

"The difference in a plant's resistance to infection at different times of the day is driven by its circadian clock rather than daily light/dark changes, with the differences existing regardless of whether you put the plants in constant light for a day and then infect at what would be dawn or night."

Every three hours in a day, researchers hit upon the circadian mechanism, when they infected plants with Botrytis cinerea spores. They saw an increased disease resistance in plants that were inoculated early morning.

"We infected plants with a dysfunctional circadian clock in the morning and at night with our fungal pathogen and observed that the plant no longer had a difference in resistance at the two times of day," said Claire Stoker, co-author of the study. "This pattern showed us that resistance must be driven by the plant's internal clock."

The study is beneficial as it can help researchers to isolate certain parts of the plant's immune response to control resistance to fungal pathogens, also helping them to boost the disease resistance of crops by employing molecular breeding methods.

The findings were published in the Nov. 21 issue of The Plant Journal.

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