Sustainable agriculture requires reducing the excessive use of pesticides. At present, it’s a common practice to genetically engineer plants to make them more resistant to diseases and insects. But plant defense patterns make it difficult to make plants both disease resistant and have high yields at the same time. Guoyong Xu, a Professor at the State Key Laboratory for Hybrid Rice and the Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) in Wuhan University, is helping to solve this problem.
He is at the forefront of a new and exciting area of research — the gene-specific regulation of translation — that can help strictly control the expression of disease-resistant genes.
Xu investigated the roles of organelle homeostasis and autophagic activity in a plant’s defense mechanism, and revealed that translational reprogramming helps to regulate immune responses.
He also showed how to use the newly discovered transcription regulatory elements along with previously discovered uORF translation regulatory elements to create broad-spectrum disease-resistant plants. This can help enhance disease resistance with minimum yield loss. Xu and his team simultaneously published two papers based on these findings in the journal Nature, which drew a lot of attention from the scientific community and social media.
In all species, translational control is largely neglected compared to transcriptional control and posttranslational modification. He has demonstrated the importance of translational reprogramming and the practical value of this controlling system in engineering disease resistant crops. This new application will lead to a new era for all researchers working in this field.
His work represents an important paradigm shift not only in the way we understand plant immunity, but also in the way we approach the regulation of gene expression in response to a broad range of signals.
In the future, Xu and his team will continue to acquire more molecular switches from nature or synthetic methods to achieve the goal of gene-specific regulation.