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Plant diseases: Tracking down molecular mechanisms

01 January 2021

DFG approves interdisciplinary research group "Communication in host plant-microbe interaction through exRNA" with core at Justus Liebig University Giessen - research approaches at the system level

The loss of yield due to diseases of crops poses immense problems for agriculture, especially in times of climate change. In order to secure the long-term yields of important crops, new strategies to reduce chemical pest management and increase drought tolerance play an important role. Against this background, the German Research Foundation (DFG) is setting up a new interdisciplinary research group to investigate the molecular mechanisms - in particular the role of extracellular ribonucleic acid (exRNA) - in the development and control of plant diseases.

The spokesman for the research group "Communication in the host plant-microbe interaction through exRNA: a systems-analytical approach to research into the molecular mechanisms and the agronomic application" (FOR 5116) is Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Kogel from the Institute for Phytopathology at Faculty 09 - Agricultural Sciences, Ecotrophology and Environmental Management at the Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU). The new research group will be funded by the DFG with a total of around 3.5 million euros over the next four years.

The core of the research initiative consists of Gießen working groups from phytopathology (Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Kogel), biochemistry (Prof. Dr. Albrecht Bindereif) and bioinformatics (Prof. Dr. Alexander Goesmann). Cooperation partners from the universities of Munich, Hamburg, Aachen and Düsseldorf are also involved in the research group.

JLU President Prof. Dr. Joybrato Mukherjee warmly congratulates the spokesman Prof. Kogel as well as all those involved: “The previous groundbreaking work, especially on the role of RNA molecules in the development and control of diseases, has attracted a great deal of national and international attention. I am sure that the new interdisciplinary DFG research group will provide important impulses for the further development of biological plant protection - with great potential, especially for agriculture. "

In the research group FOR 5116, the researchers at the interface between agricultural sciences and biology want to understand how the communication between cereal plants and the pathogenic pathogens attacking them takes place, explains Prof. Kogel: “The knowledge gained about the mechanisms of plant diseases and plant immunity can be contribute in the long term to the development of new strategies to reduce chemical plant protection and to secure the yield of important cultivated plants. "

The work builds on the latest findings in infection research, which show that special RNA molecules play an important role in the development of the disease, as they are exchanged between the infected host (humans, animals, plants) and microbial pathogens. Findings in this area are not only helpful for understanding the course of the disease, but also with regard to the development of new forms of therapy. The example of the development of vaccines based on RNA shows that these molecules have enormous potential for treating diseases - which is currently the focus of research in times of the corona pandemic.

“This is not only true in medicine, these molecules also show promising effects against pathogens that cause plant diseases. We see that we can very effectively prevent plant diseases with these biomolecules, ”emphasizes Prof. Kogel. “With the approval of the large joint project, the DFG gives us the unique opportunity to take a leading position worldwide in the field of RNA research in the crop protection sector. We hope that we have a new component on hand based on RNA for combating old and new plant diseases caused by climate change with the help of highly efficient, safe and environmentally friendly biological processes. "

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