PerspectivePlant Biology

How plants differ in toxin-sensitivity

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Science  15 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6369, pp. 1383-1384
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4188

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The story of a family of microbial proteins that are toxic to plants started in an unexpected way. In 1995, Bryan Bailey (of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) was studying fungi that could be used to destroy coca plants (which are used to produce cocaine). He studied a strain of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum that causes disease in these plants. From culture filtrates of the fungus, he purified a protein that when applied to coca induced necrosis (tissue cell death) and the production of the plant hormone ethylene, which is produced in response to environmental stress (1). The toxin was therefore named necrosis- and ethylene-inducing peptide 1 (Nep1). When tested on different plant species, he showed that Nep1 is toxic to eudicot plant species (such as tomato and bean) but not to monocots (such as cereals and leek) (1). Now, 22 years later, the molecular basis of specificity of members of the Nep1-like protein (NLP) family of toxins is described on page 1431 of this issue by Lenarčič et al. (2).