Vaccinating Plants

by Sierra Mayle, Animal Sciences major

Over the course of history and its evolving agricultural techniques, plants have adaptedlike humans- to resist pathogens and harmful entities that try and take over its defense systems. With humans learning to fight plant disease through pesticides and herbicides though, comes the risk of plants being able to defend themselves less due to a lower tolerance created with the offset of chemicals running through its system (that is, resistance to pesticides).

Andrew Fogg, the author of this article, explains that plants have a mechanism inside them for naturally resisting invading pathogens. He describes it as a lock and key scenario. Basically, the resistance protein acts as a “lock” and it will only correspond to its proper pathogen “key”. If this so called combination does not correspond, the plant will not detect the pathogen.

Let’s keep in mind that plants only have the disease resistance genes they were given from their parents.  Humans can produce new antibodies and are better adapters to begin with. With that being said, breeding a variety of plants is a key factor in dispersing a variety of pathogenic resistance.

One way scientists have been fighting back is through GM foods, and essentially using a technique called genome editing to incite new resistance genes within plants. In popular opinion it has been noted many consumers would rather eat food that has been treated with an added gene versus the implementation of chemicals in plants.

Note that chemicals placed onto crops must not be too harmful for human consumption, but has this statement been scientifically studied and evaluated enough? People everywhere seem to have different adaptation mechanisms based on genetic variation, and that is why some are more or less resistant to certain types of sickness, but is there the possibility of the chemicals sprayed on our crops causing mutation within our bodies to give some a lesser or greater advantage at survival and immunity mechanisms in general?

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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