In 10 seconds? The notorious bacteria, phytoplasma can stop plants from growing and reproducing. Researchers have found its main weapon and discovered how to disrupt it. With this, they can turn the tables on the parasite, protect disease-prone crops, and improve yields in the future.

What exactly did they discover? Several pathogens attacking plants manipulate the host plant defense mechanisms to turn infection into disease. Phytoplasma can cause disease outbreaks in major crops such as potato, cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, and others. In this study, a team of scientists identified that a bacterial protein named Secreted Aspartic Peptidase 5 (SAP05) modifies a protective host molecular machinery named proteasome. Plants normally use this mechanism to destroy unwanted proteins inside their cells, but SAP05 manages to disable it. The result is that plants are stuck in a ‘zombie state’, i.e. they age very slowly and are unable to generate produce. Such plants can be recognized from the numerous, dense ‘bushy’ branches they develop.

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