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For their study, the scientists used a mutant form of the fungus that did not produce Cbp1 and thus could not form appressorium as it was unable to produce acetic acid from chitin. The scientists observed that when minuscule concentrations of acetic acid, even as low as a hundred molecules per fungal spore, were added, appressorium formation was restored in the mutants. This implied that acetic acid could act as a chemical signal to trigger cell differentiation. Then, to better understand the role of acetic acid in the glyoxylate cycle, the researchers focused on an enzyme unique to this metabolic pathway: isocitrate lyase. They found that the mutant forms of the fungus had much lower levels of this enzyme, meaning that they could not switch to the glyoxylate cycle. But, as seen before, the addition of acetic acid at an extremely low concentration was enough to restore normal levels of the enzyme and thus induce appressorium formation. “Our study is the first to reveal the novel role of acetic acid in metabolic switching and cell differentiation in eukaryotic cells,” remarks Prof Kamakura.
Interestingly, these findings indicate that using chitin molecules from their own cell wall could be a survival strategy used by several types of bacteria and fungi. This would allow them to thrive in environments deprived of nutrients—such as on the surface of a host leaf—and avoid host defense/immune mechanisms. Acetic acid could then be used both as a carbon source and as a signal to trigger metabolic switching and cell differentiation. Prof Kamakura explains, “The use of acetic acid obtained from a pathogen’s own cell wall for the activation of the glyoxylate cycle is perhaps a general mechanism in various infection processes.”
The finding that extremely low concentrations of a small, simple molecule like acetic acid could induce significant changes in cellular processes is unprecedented and was only known before for certain hormones in animals. Understanding this type of inter-species chemical interactions could prove to be immensely valuable in agriculture, bioengineering, and medicine, to name a few areas. Prof Kamakura concludes, “It is yet to be found whether this phenomenon is common to other organisms. But, since metabolites such as butyric acid derived from human intestinal bacteria are involved in immune cell activation and cancer progression, our findings have implications in a wide variety of fields, including medicine and agriculture.” Source:
Tokyo University of Science Journal reference:
Kuroki, M., et al. (2020) Extremely Low Concentrations of Acetic Acid Stimulate Cell Differentiation in Rice Blast Fungus. iScience . doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2019.100786 .
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