As much as immunization is important for humans and animals, plants are susceptible to diseases and need to be immunized as well. A classic example of combatting plant diseases is the application of pesticides. While it made significant contributions in increasing agricultural crop yield and quality, there are associated negative effects such as environmental and health concerns. Also, the rapid development of pesticide-resistant strains of pathogens remains to be a challenge in meeting market demands for crop yield and quality.
Over the last decade, much research has been in invested in the enhancement of the plant’s immune system as a means of protection against diseases. If plants are able to fight off an infection on their own, the utilization of pesticides could be reduced. Similar to how vaccines work in humans, the same principle is also applied in immunizing plants against pathogens.
Plants are immobile organisms and as such are vulnerable to a wide array of pathogens such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. Thus, every cell in the plant must be able to defend itself during an infection. The plant’s immune system respond to foreign attacks in a manner similar to the human immune system. Plants learn to recognize invading pathogens based on their defining characteristics (i.e. flagella of bacteria) just like how antigens are recognized by human immune system. This would then induce an immune response.
The principle of “priming” plants against invading pathogens is similar to how vaccines work in humans. The characteristics or patterns of the pathogen can be isolated and purified. The purified pattern can be administered as a “vaccine” to a plant by injecting it in the stem or leaves. This will then stimulate the plant’s immune response leading to a faster and/or stronger defense response during an actual attack by pathogens. Defense priming of plants can be induced by natural or synthetic compounds.
Conrath, U., Beckers, G., Flors, V., García-Agustín, P., Jakab, G., Mauch, F., Newman, M., Pieterse, C., Poinssot, B., Pozo, M., Pugin, A., Schaffrath, U., Ton, J., Wendehenne, D., Zimmerli, L. and Mauch-Mani, B. (2006). Priming: Getting Ready for Battle. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, 19(10), pp.1062-1071.
Rapicavoli, J. (2015). Primed for battle: helping plants fight off pathogens by enhancing their immune systems.. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/primed-for-battle-helping-plants-fight-off-pathogens-by-enhancing-their-immune-systems-43689 [Accessed 11 Oct. 2016].