For the discovery of resistosomes and elucidation of their molecular structures and functions in plant immune responses against pathogens.
Disease outbreaks in plants have had major impacts on civilizations. Currently, up to 40% of global food production is lost due to plant pests and microbial pathogen infection. The discovery of plant resistance loci in 1940s suggested that plants have innate immune mechanisms. This hypothesis was proven molecularly through the cloning of the first plant resistance genes in 1994. These resistance genes encode nucleotide-binding domain leucine-rich repeat-containing immune receptors, constituting a major plant immune mechanism against a wide range of pathogens and some insects. However, the molecular functions of these immune receptors remained a mystery before Chai and Zhou’s work.
Through their collaborative work in the past 19 years, Dr. Jijie Chai and Dr. Jian-Min Zhou discovered that plant immune receptors activate immune responses through formation of resistosomes by identifying the essential components of the first resistosome (ZAR1 resistosome) and revealing its structure and molecular function. Their work shows how the multi-component resistosome assembles after recognition of the pathogen effector by the immune receptor, ZAR1, and functions as a plasma membrane calcium-channel to trigger programmed cell death at the infection site to protect plants from infection. Understanding of resistosome functions will lead to better methods for controlling plant disease and therefore have enormous importance for global food security. Therefore, Dr. Jijie Chai and Dr. Jian-Min Zhou are awarded with the Future Science Prize in Life Sciences for their seminal contributions to the understanding of innate immune mechanisms in plants.
Jijie Chai was born in Liaoning, China, in 1966. He received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College in 1997.
Jian-Min Zhou was born in Sichuan, China, in 1964. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1994.