Zhang and Li Labs

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This week we profile a recent publication in Nature from the labs of Drs. Xin Li
(pictured, bottom, center right) and Yuelin Zhang (top, center left) from UBC.

Can you provide a brief overview of your lab’s current research focus?

Plants are sensitive to changes in the environment and to the presence of threats. They can recognize pathogens through both intracellular receptors (known as NLRs) and plasma-membrane localized receptors (known as PRRs). The Li Lab focuses on understanding how the recognition of pathogens by NLRs leads to defense responses, whereas the Zhang Lab studies the signalling pathways of plasma-membrane localized PRR receptors.

What is the significance of the findings in this publication?

The activation of NLRs and PRRs result in different defense responses, and require different downstream signaling proteins. Thus, NLRs and PRRs signal transduction pathways have been historically studied separately and the pathways were thought to be independent. However, increasing evidence in recent years have suggested that these pathways may overlap. In our recent collaborative work, we found that some key aspects of NLR-signaling are required for PRR-induced immunity. Thus, NLRs and PRRs are less independent than previously thought. Together with three other Nature papers published earlier this year (Yuan et  al., 2021; Ngou et al., 2021; Pruitt et al., 2021), these four papers highlight the crosstalk events among different plant immune signaling pathways.

What are the next steps for this research?

We are now determining the specific mechanistic details for how this pathway “crosstalk” occurs. Through such work, we hope to have a more complete understanding of plant immunity regulation as a whole. A thorough understanding of these molecular mechanisms will provide a basis for designing “plant medicines” to cure plant infectious diseases, ensuring crop health and food security.

If you’d like to mention your funding sources, please list them.

The two UBC labs are funded by NSERC-Discovery, CFI, NSERC-CREATE (PRoTECT: Plant Responses To Eliminate Critical Threats) training program, UBC MSL and Botany Departments.


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