Special receptor proteins on the surface of the plant cells can recognize pathogens and fight them off.
"Since plants do not have their own immune cells or antibodies, the intracellular receptor proteins play a key role in the plant's immune response," explains Stuttmann.
So far, the fundamental principles of plant immune systems have primarily been studied in thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), a relatively simple model organism.
In order to see whether the same genes are responsible for the immune systems of the two plant species, the researchers first knocked-out several candidate genes in tobacco using genome editing techniques and then swapped genes between the two species.
"An unexpected complexity was discovered: While a TNL receptor in the tobacco plant also worked in thale cress, this did not apply to the genes of the protein complex.
In fact, tobacco plants require a different protein complex than thale cress for a TNL-receptor-induced immune response.