Just like humans, plants also have an immune system – and we might be poisoning it

Plants do more than just beautify gardens and lawns. Fruit-bearing plants, herbs, and vegetables provide the nutrients that you need to stay healthy, while all plants provide oxygen. But according to a study, plant breeding and pesticide use negatively affects the immune system of plants.

The study, which was published in the journal Science, involved a collaboration between researchers from the University of Basel, the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology, and the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology.

During the course of the study, the researchers found that metacaspases (a class of proteolytic enzymes) are crucial for the activation of immune response in plants. They warned that common plant breeding strategies and the use of pesticides may be impeding this natural response.

When multicellular organisms, like humans, are hurt, their damaged cells transmit signals to alert the surrounding tissue of the wound. These signals can then trigger the immune system to respond to the injury and promote tissue regeneration. These signals also result in wound healing.

The same thing happens to plants, albeit with certain differences.

Peptides (short protein fragments) in plants are essential for the proper functioning of their immune system. These peptides are produced from precursor proteins that have been “cut into shape” by proteases (proteolytic enzymes).

But since there are a lot of proteases, it is necessary to identify those with roles in the plant immune system.

Metacaspases and the immune system of plants

For their study, the researchers wounded thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) leaves and found that metacaspases play a crucial role in the plant’s response. The response also involves the release of calcium and PROPEP1, a peptide precursor protein.


The scientists verified their initial findings by producing a plant with a mutation in the gene coding for a crucial metacaspase. They noted that the plant was incapable of releasing the immune signal following injury.

Simon Stael, one of the authors of the study, explained that damage elevates calcium levels in the plant cell interior. High calcium levels activate metacaspases, which then work on PROPEP1, the protein that regulates the immune response and other related efforts to limit further damage.

How pesticides and plant breeding affect plant immunity

Standard plant breeding practices and the use of pesticides could negatively affect the immune system of plants. An impaired immune system could result in slower recovery from damage.

Plant breeding refers to a technique that combines plant seeds to produce nutrient-rich, high-quality fruits and vegetables that will grow well in ideal planting conditions. However, since farmers aren’t familiar with metacaspases, they could unknowingly be limiting plant resilience due to damage caused to their immune system by plant breeding. (Related: Health Basics: Understanding GMO engineering and why altering plant DNA in laboratories becomes so DANGEROUS to human health.)

The research team remains hopeful that their findings can be used in future studies. Proteases often cleave more than one protein. New research can look into different plant processes that require metacaspases and are linked to wound response and immunity.

Natural alternatives to pesticides

If you have a home garden, refrain from using pesticides to maintain optimum plant health. Use the following alternatives in place of harmful pesticides.

  • Diatomaceous earth (DE) – Diatomaceous earth is a dry, powdery material. This natural dust contains the shells of marine organisms. Use DE to get rid of crawling pests indoors and outdoors.
  • Neem oil – You can use neem oil in a garden or landscape to protect plants from insects that chew on plants, like black vine weevil.

Try using natural alternatives to keep your plants healthy and avoid using pesticides that contain harmful chemicals.

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