Innes and colleagues will take advantage of an endogenous surveillance system in plants that activates immune responses upon cleavage of specific signalling proteins by proteases secreted by pathogens. Using cutting-edge genome editing techniques, Innes’ team will create decoy substrates for these pathogen proteases, which, upon cleavage, will activate the plant immune system, thus conferring resistance to infection.
They ultimately hope to develop genetic methods for the detection of pathogen proteases, both inside and outside plant cells, with a focus on wheat. If their proposed combination of intracellular and extracellular protease detection systems succeeds, it could potentially be deployed against many other cereal pathogens such as rust fungi and nematodes. Collectively, this genetic-based approach could dramatically reduce our dependence on environmentally damaging pesticides while increasing crop yields and reducing costs for farmers.