Non-specific lipid transfer proteins help improve wheat tolerance

Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), often called scab, is a serious disease of small grain cereals like barley and wheat that affects farmers worldwide. Since the early 1990s, the disease has been lowering acreage and raising the price of wheat production in the United States, thus increasing expenses for downstream companies like brewers and millers.

Non-specific lipid transfer proteins help improve wheat tolerance
John McLaughlin in the Rutgers greenhouse with hard red spring wheat. Image Credit: John McLaughlin.

A fungus causes the illness by producing heat-stable trichothecene mycotoxins, which aid in disease propagation. Plant breeders are striving to produce cultivars with greater resistance to FHB to halt the spread.

A team of plant pathologists led by Rutgers University discovered that overexpressing two non-specific lipid transfer proteins in wheat improved tolerance to the fungus and reduced one of the primary mycotoxins.

We found that the AtLTp4.4 protein, from the large gene family of nsLTPs, had both antifungal and antioxidant properties. This is the first study to show that nsLTPs have dual functions and the first study to explore how these functions contribute to FHB-resistance in wheat.”

John McLaughlin, Department of Plant Biology, Rutgers University

The finding that genes such as nsLTPs can increase FHB resistance in wheat adds to the database of genes available to plant breeders for use in their breeding programs. McLaughlin and his team will be able to pursue new research areas as a result of this discovery.

We are exploring if nsLTP overexpression in barley can impact FHB resistance and if the increase of nsLTPs in the grain improves the antioxidant properties of malt. Additionally, nsLTPs are predicted to improve beer shelf life and flavor stability, and we will be testing that.”

John McLaughlin, Department of Plant Biology, Rutgers University

Their findings indicate the need for more investigation into the relationship between the induction of reactive oxygen species and mycotoxin accumulation/production in small grain cereals since the researchers discovered that the exposure of wheat leaf tissue to trichothecenes and the accumulation of reactive oxygen species, irrespective of the fungus, may be considerably influenced by nsLTP overexpression.

Our research shows that gain-of-function mutants can be used to enhance plant disease resistance, and our article shows some of the techniques involved to explore the mechanisms of disease resistance.”

John McLaughlin, Department of Plant Biology, Rutgers University

Source:
Journal reference:

McLaughlin, J. E., et al. (2021) A Lipid Transfer Protein has Antifungal and Antioxidant Activity and Suppresses Fusarium Head Blight Disease and DON Accumulation in Transgenic Wheat. Phytopathology. doi.org/10.1094/PHYTO-04-20-0153-R.

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