New research, being published January 20 in the journal Science, has uncovered a previously unknown means by which plants are able to regulate how their immune systems respond to pathogens. A group of small peptides, referred to as RALFs (Rapid ALkalinization Factors), serve to dampen immune signaling — preventing further response once the infection has been dealt with by the plant’s immune system. The finding could pave the way to improve the immune systems of food crops, which would have a tremendous impact on food security.

The study, co-authored by Queen’s plant biologist Jacqueline Monaghan, examined how plant immune systems work to respond to threats, as well as how plants regulate their pathogen responses in order to avoid negative impacts to their growth and development.