Extracellular DNA is required for root tip resistance to fungal infection

Fushi Wen, Gerard J. White, Hans D. Vanetten, Zhongguo Xiong, Martha C. Hawes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Plant defense involves a complex array of biochemical interactions, many of which occur in the extracellular environment. The apical 1- to 2-mm root tip housing apical and root cap meristems is resistant to infection by most pathogens, so growth and gravity sensing often proceed normally even when other sites on the root are invaded. The mechanism of this resistance is unknown but appears to involve a mucilaginous matrix or "slime" composed of proteins, polysaccharides, and detached living cells called "border cells." Here, we report that extracellular DNA (exDNA) is a component of root cap slime and that exDNA degradation during inoculation by a fungal pathogen results in loss of root tip resistance to infection. Most root tips (.95%) escape infection even when immersed in inoculum from the root-rotting pathogen Nectria haematococca. By contrast, 100% of inoculated root tips treated with DNase I developed necrosis. Treatment with BAL31, an exonuclease that digests DNA more slowly than DNase I, also resulted in increased root tip infection, but the onset of infection was delayed. Control root tips or fungal spores treated with nuclease alone exhibited normal morphology and growth. Pea (Pisum sativum) root tips incubated with [32P]dCTP during a 1-h period when no cell death occurs yielded root cap slime containing 32P-labeled exDNA. Our results suggest that exDNA is a previously unrecognized component of plant defense, an observation that is in accordance with the recent discovery that exDNA from white blood cells plays a key role in the vertebrate immune response against microbial pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)820-829
Number of pages10
JournalPlant physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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