The genus of water moulds is responsible for many highly destructive crop diseases. John Innes Centre's Dr Mark Banfield and his team uncovered common features of these proteins that may be responsible for making them so aggressive and adaptable.
Known as effectors, the proteins enter cells of the plant host and overcome its defences. Understanding how they work at the molecular level, and how they have evolved, is seen as crucial to improving plants' resistance.
Having unravelled the structures of Phytophthora capsici, the cause of pepper and cucurbit blight, and P. infestans, which causes potato and tomato late blight, the researchers have proposed that the effectors have a stable molecular core around which the organism can rapidly adapt to the host plant's defences.