Biomimicry as a tool to study surface structure influence on plant-pathogen interaction

Maya Kleiman1*, Neta Ginzburg1

1 Department of Vegetables and Field Crops, Institute of Plant Sciences, Agricultural Research Organization, Rishon Lezion, Israel

The field of biomimicry looks at nature for inspiration. The assumption is that nature, through millions of years of evolution, solved problems that are often like the problems facing mankind. This approach brought to the development of self-cleaning surfaces, inspired by the lotus leaf microstructure; adhesion in robotics, based on the structures on the surface of the gecko foot; colorful surfaces stimulated by the different microstructures within birds’ feathers and many more. In our lab we ask the question of why nature “chose” to use those particular structures as a solution. The model system we use is the plant-pathogen system. We ask how the plant surface microstructure affects plant-pathogen interaction.

The first point of contact in the interaction between plants and pathogens is the surface of the plant. This interaction is composed of two components: a physical one (due to the surface microstructure) and a chemical/molecular one (due to molecular signals expressed on the surface). The surface microstructure can be viewed as one more form of signaling within the plant system. When studying plant-pathogen interaction using the natural plant, it is impossible to separate those two components as they are entangled together within the biological system. However, using a biomimicking synthetic system enables us to study the structural effect separately from the chemical one and gain insights as to the “motivation” behind those structures.

We are currently working on testing how leaf microstructure affects plant interaction with plant pathogens. We are using tomato and several pathogenic fungi and bacteria as a model system. Additionally, we are adopting tools from the leaf microstructure mimetics field into the world of plant roots and we are testing how root surface microstructure affects the pathogeny of root nematodes and pathogenic bacteria. We see this method as a powerful tool in gaining a better understanding of the interface between the plant surface and its biotic and abiotic surroundings.