Detection of the plant parasite Cuscuta reflexa by a tomato cell surface receptor

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Science  29 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6298, pp. 478-481
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf3919

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Resistance is not, after all, futile

The parasitic plant known as dodder attaches to its hosts and sucks the life out of them. Oddly, the common tomato stands tall when under attack. Hegenauer et al. have leveraged that difference to identify part of the molecular defense system that protects tomato plants (see the Perspective by Ntoukakis and Gimenez-Ibanez). In a process analogous to defenses mounted against microbial infection, the host plant perceives a small-peptide signal from the parasitic plant and initiates defense responses. The candidate receptor isolated from the tomato plant provided partial protection when transferred to two other susceptible plant species.

Science, this issue p. 478; see also p. 442


Parasitic plants are a constraint on agriculture worldwide. Cuscuta reflexa is a stem holoparasite that infests most dicotyledonous plants. One exception is tomato, which is resistant to C. reflexa. We discovered that tomato responds to a small peptide factor occurring in Cuscuta spp. with immune responses typically activated after perception of microbe-associated molecular patterns. We identified the cell surface receptor-like protein CUSCUTA RECEPTOR 1 (CuRe1) as essential for the perception of this parasite-associated molecular pattern. CuRe1 is sufficient to confer responsiveness to the Cuscuta factor and increased resistance to parasitic C. reflexa when heterologously expressed in otherwise susceptible host plants. Our findings reveal that plants recognize parasitic plants in a manner similar to perception of microbial pathogens.

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