Image of a rice plant.

Enlarge (credit: CA Food and Agriculture)

Bacterial blight attacks rice crops in Southeast Asia and West Africa. It is a very well-studied crop disease, and it often serves as a model system to examine the interactions between microbes and their host plants. The pathogen is called Xoo, for Xanthomonas oryzae pathovar oryzae, and it makes its living by hijacking a number of rice genes that export sugars.

Now, researchers have figured out how to edit the rice's genome to block this hijacking.

A TALe of sugars

Xoo secretes TALes (transcription activator-like effector molecules) that bind to the DNA near the rice's SWEET genes, activating them. These SWEET genes (Sugars Will Eventually Be Exported Transporters) are ubiquitous in plants. As their name indicates, the SWEET proteins transport sucrose across the cell membrane. Their expression is required for susceptibility to Xoo.

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