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Agriculture plays a crucial role in the economy of developing countries, and provides the main source of food, income and employment to their rural populations. The global food security is alarming, and protection against losses caused by crop pests, plant diseases in particular, can play a critical role in improving food security worldwide.

A study at University of Maryland (UMD), scientists and international team discovered a protein called OSCA1.3 (is an ion channel specifically activated upon detection of pathogens) that forms a channel that leaks calcium into the cells surrounding which is responsible for closing plant pores as an immune response and protect themselves against pathogens. Now that it is clear with molecular mechanism behind one of the first and most relevant signals for plant immune response to pathogens, the calcium burst after infection,"

Prof. said José Feijo, from department of cell biology and molecular genetics at UMD and co-author of the study. "Finding the mechanism associated with this calcium channel allows further research into its regulation, which will improve our understanding of the way in which the channel activity modulates and, eventually, boosts the immune response of plants to pathogens."

Plants breathe through tiny pores called stomata, are encircled by two guard cells, which respond to calcium signals that helps in expand or contract and trigger immune response to pathogen. But calcium cannot pass directly through the guard cell membranes, scientists knew a calcium channel had to be at work. But they didn't know which protein acted as the calcium channel.

To find this protein, the study's lead author, Cyril Zipfel, a professor of molecular and cellular plant physiology at the University of Zurich and Senior Group Leader at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, searched for proteins that would be modified by another protein named BIK1, which genetic studies and bioassays identified as a necessary component of the immune calcium response in plants.

When a plant gets infected with a pathogen BIK1 activates OSCA1.3 protein that forms calcium channel to close stomata as a defensive, immune system response to pathogens.

By understanding the defense mechanisms plant to resist pathogens, is a major step for healthier, more resistant and more productive crops.

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