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Corn smut tailors gene expression to host tissue

Researchers from the US Stanford University have uncovered a complex relationship between the plant fungal pathogen, corn smut ( Ustilago maydis), and its host, in which attacker and defender activate different suites of genes according to the tissue type targeted by the pathogen. According to lead researcher Virginia Walbot, professor of biology at Stanford, it is the first time that tissue-specific targeting has been discovered in a plant pathogen. The researchers found that only 30% of its genome was used by the fungus regardless of the tissue infected, and that different sets of genes were expressed depending on the type of tissue infected. They also established that host plants countered fungal attack by expressing tissue-specific genes and that the severity of the infection was related to the growth potential of the infected tissue. Details of the study will be published in the May issue of the US journal, Nature Cancer Reviews.

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