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Fungi can sense and respond to hormone signals, then infect plant, research suggests

Microorganisms such as yeast and other fungi can infect plants via wounds. Just how fungi identify such a wound, though, has been a mystery. Now researchers at MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research report insights to that end.

In a March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists suggest that fungi have developed systems to sense and respond to specific signals produced by a host plant. Specifically, fungi living outside a plant perceive the presence of a hormone called indole 3-acetic acid (IAA) and may use it as a signal of a potential wound site. The scientists suspect that the fungi then switch from a benign yeast to a pathogenic form and infect the plant.

The ability of a fungus to perceive a plant hormone and differentiate into an invasive form has important implications for plant-pathogen interactions, according to Reeta Prusty, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scientist in the lab of Gerald Fink, professor of biology at MIT and a Whitehead member.

This work was funded by the National Science Foundation and a National Research Service Award Fellowship.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 14, 2004.

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