Research Highlight

Sunflower’s protein a shield against infection

doi:10.1038/nindia.2018.123 Published online 23 September 2018

Researchers have identified key proteins that protect sunflower plants against powdery mildew, a fungal disease that reduces the yields of this plant in tropical countries1. This knowledge can be used to breed a resistant variety of sunflower plant that can stop crop losses. 

To find a way to combat powdery mildew infection, scientists from the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, the ICAR-Indian Institute of Oilseeds Research and the University of Hyderabad in Hyderabad, India,  studied how three genotypes (susceptible, resistant and immune) of sunflower plants responded to powdery mildew infection.

The scientists, led by Suman S. Thakur and Sujatha Mulpuri, mapped and measured the levels of proteins that the infected plants secreted during the post-infection stages.        

In the susceptible plant, the pathogen spread to the leaf, whereas the resistant plant restricted such spread. The immune plant, however, showed no signs of infection up to a week after infection. 

The resistant sunflower plant protected itself against the infection by secreting and enhancing the levels of defence- and photosynthesis-related proteins.

The defence-related proteins blocked the generation of reactive oxygen species, whose levels go up during any infection. The photosynthesis-related proteins allowed the resistant plant to counter the effects of starvation that happens after a pathogen attack.

The susceptible plant showed low levels of the defence- and photosynthesis-related proteins, allowing infection to spread.

Besides throwing light on the sunflower’s response to powdery mildew infection, this study provides leads that could be exploited to breed a disease-resistant sunflower variety, say the researchers.


1. Kallamadi, P. R. et al. An insight into powdery mildew–infected, susceptible, resistant, and immune sunflower genotypes. Proteomics. 18, 1870141 (2018) doi: 10.1002/pmic.201700418