PerspectivePlant Biology

The quest for durable resistance

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Science  22 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6370, pp. 1541-1542
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4797

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Agriculture transformed humans from hunter-gatherers into city dwellers. This was made possible through the domestication of crops, such as wheat and barley. Based on archaeological evidence (1), we know that our ancestors' crops were constantly plagued by disease, including rusts and mildews on cereals. During the 4th century BCE, Romans sacrificed red cattle, foxes, and dogs to the god Robigus in the belief that it would prevent epidemics of cereal rusts. Today, we understand that crop diseases are caused by plant pathogens. Cereal rusts are fungal pathogens that colonize foliar parts of the plant, such as the stem or leaf. The ability of these pathogens to infect a plant requires the suppression of the plant's immune system. The principal weapon used by pathogens to inhibit immunity are effectors, typically small secreted proteins. Plants recognize pathogens through immune receptors, including those that either directly or indirectly “perceive” pathogen effectors secreted into the plant (2). On pages 1604 and 1607 of this issue, Salcedo et al. (3) and Chen et al. (4), respectively, describe the identification of two effectors from the fungal pathogen Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici, the causal agent of wheat stem rust. The discovery of these effectors represents a critical milestone for developing an approach to track and prevent the worldwide spread of the rusts of wheat (5) and improve our understanding of the biology of these devastating pathogens.