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Devastating parasitic weed may be felled by toxin borrowed from flies

The parasitic weed, broomrape, attaches to the root of such vegetable crops as tomato, potato, beans, and sunflowers. With no need for leaves of its own, it produces only a floral shoot above ground. Meanwhile, its host is barely able to survive, much less be productive.

Now, the defense mechanism of another pest the fly may provide a weapon against parasitic weeds.

Researchers from Virginia Tech in the United States and the Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) of Israel will likely create a buzz of fascination when they present their results at the 227th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, Calif., March 28-April 1.

Broomrape is very disruptive throughout the Middle East and Africa, as well as in some parts of Europe. Plant breeders have been trying for decades to breed crops that will resist the weed. Genetic engineering to create resistant crops is the latest strategy.

Egyptian broomrape, or Orobanche aegyptiaca, was certainly a logical target for the efforts of Noureddine Hamamouch of Morocco, a doctoral student in plant pathology, physiology, and weed science (PPWS) at Virginia Tech. And genetic engineering was the logical strategy. But the toxin he decided to experiment with, an antibacterial peptide that is part of the defense arsenal of the flesh fly (Sarcophaga peregrina), was a matter of luck, says PPWS professor James Westwood.

Westwood's colleague, Radi Aly, of the weed science department at Newe Ya'ar Research Center of ARO had been working with the fly peptide, sarcotoxin as part of another, unrelated project. "He had it on hand and just tried it to see what would happen."

The model plant for the research is tobacco, which Virginia Tech researchers have used for other transgenic projects. At around the time Aly realized he had a potential toxin in hand, Westwood's group had just identified a gene promoter that switched on specifically in response to the parasite. The two g
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Contact: Susan Trulove
strulove@vt.edu
540-231-5645
Virginia Tech
29-Mar-2004


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