Letter | Published:

uORF-mediated translation allows engineered plant disease resistance without fitness costs

Nature volume 545, pages 491494 (25 May 2017) | Download Citation


Controlling plant disease has been a struggle for humankind since the advent of agriculture. Studies of plant immune mechanisms have led to strategies of engineering resistant crops through ectopic transcription of plants’ own defence genes, such as the master immune regulatory gene NPR1 (ref. 1). However, enhanced resistance obtained through such strategies is often associated with substantial penalties to fitness2, making the resulting products undesirable for agricultural applications. To remedy this problem, we sought more stringent mechanisms of expressing defence proteins. On the basis of our latest finding that translation of key immune regulators, such as TBF1 (ref. 3), is rapidly and transiently induced upon pathogen challenge (see accompanying paper4), we developed a ‘TBF1-cassette’ consisting of not only the immune-inducible promoter but also two pathogen-responsive upstream open reading frames (uORFsTBF1) of the TBF1 gene. Here we demonstrate that inclusion of uORFsTBF1-mediated translational control over the production of snc1-1 (an autoactivated immune receptor) in Arabidopsis thaliana and AtNPR1 in rice enables us to engineer broad-spectrum disease resistance without compromising plant fitness in the laboratory or in the field. This broadly applicable strategy may lead to decreased pesticide use and reduce the selective pressure for resistant pathogens.

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This study was supported by grants from National Institutes of Health 5R01 GM069594-11 and Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (through grant GBMF3032) to X.D., National Natural Science Foundation of China (31371926) to M.Y., and the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFD0100903) to S.W. We thank J. Motley, J. Marqués, P. Zwack and S. Zebell for comments on this manuscript.

Author information

Author notes

    • Guoyong Xu
    •  & Meng Yuan

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

    • Guoyong Xu
    • , Lijing Liu
    • , Edward Zhuang
    • , Sargis Karapetyan
    •  & Xinnian Dong
  2. National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, National Centre of Plant Gene Research (Wuhan), Huazhong Agricultural University, 430070 Wuhan, China

    • Meng Yuan
    • , Chaoren Ai
    •  & Shiping Wang


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G.X. and X.D. designed the research. G.X. performed the Arabidopsis-related experiments with help from E.Z. for fitness tests. L.L. isolated snc1 genomic DNA. S.K. maintained Hpa Noco2 strain in the laboratory and helped with inoculation; M.Y., C.A. and G.X. performed and S.W. supervised the rice-related experiments. G.X. and X.D. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors.

Competing interests

A patent based on this study has been filed by Duke University with G.X. and X.D. as inventors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xinnian Dong.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks J. Bailey-Serres, P. Rushton and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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    Supplementary Figure

    This file contains the uncropped immunoblots.

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    Supplementary Table 1

    This file lists the plasmids, primers and antibodies in this study.

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