Seeking past shelter

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Nothing can survive without the means to defend itself. If bacteria are unable to protect themselves from freezing temperatures, they perish. If we cannot fight off the flu virus, we pass away. If plants cannot ward off toxic fungi, they wilt and die. In fact, we all spend a lot of time shunning "stresses", of either biological (biotic) origin, or non-biological (abiotic) origin. The good part is that when an organism has managed to check an infection or deal with harsh conditions once, it does not forget and will react all the faster if the same thing occurs again. In other words, somehow and somewhere, memories are engraved in an organism. This is precisely how a vaccination works in humans. Needless to say, scientists have also found ways to prepare a plant's resistance mechanisms in advance by treating it with certain substances or presenting it with stressful environmental conditions. This is called plant defence priming. Researchers also observed that this acquired state of a plant can also be inherited, which is like passing down a form of instinct: that of knowing how to deal with the enemy. One protein is known to be involved in the priming process, and has no doubt a role in preserving this protective memory. It has been named protein Impaired in BABA-Induced Sterility 1, or IBS1.

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Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

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