Hunting the Fruit Vine Killer
Cobine and De La Fuente fight to save major crops from a deadly disease
A nasty bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, is threatening America’s most profitable crops, including grapes, almonds, peaches and blueberries. States are known by these crops, and they are big business.
So protecting these harvests means millions to agribusiness worldwide, and Auburn researchers Paul Cobine and Leonardo De La Fuente are applying state-of-the-art science to understand Xylella infection and design strategies to control it.
Carried by insects, Xylella fastidiosa takes up residence inside the xylem: the tiny channels inside plants that pipe water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves. When the bacterium sets up shop, it forms a biofilm that sticks groups of Xylella fastidiosa together and protects them from the defenses of the host plant.
Cobine and De La Fuente are studying the hypothesis that Xylella fastidiosa kills by feeding on and starving the plant of vital minerals and metals. The bacteria are pretty canny. Until they have invaded the entire plant, they only block about half the xylem channels so the roots keep producing the minerals and metals. Once infected, plants rarely survive. As Auburn’s researchers unravel the role of metals in disease progression, they can prescribe the mix of fertilizers that will stabilize infected plants – protecting this year’s crop — and target antimicrobials to destroy the bacteria and decrease overall infection rates.
For growers the world over, that’s a lifesaver.
Dr. Paul Cobine
My research is focused on the mechanisms for the recruitment of metals into mitochondria and their subsequent insertion, as cofactors, into the multi-subunit complexes of the electron transport chain. The majority of the studies use the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae with a combination of protein chemistry and genetics. Mitochondrial dysfunction is a common element of most human disease, so insight gleaned from the assembly process in yeast is crucial to understanding many pathophysiological states.
Dr. Leonardo De La Fuente
The research conducted in my laboratory focuses on the interactions between plant and associated bacteria. I am especially interested in plant pathogenic bacteria in aspects such as infection processes, host colonization, biofilm formation and molecular interactions. Questions about the biology of the pathogenic bacteria are being studied using microbiology and molecular biology techniques, as well as nanotechnology.