Phytophthora effectors have a motif or signature — a specific protein code — that allows the proteins to be delivered into host cells,” Ma said.  “A similar motif is found in effectors of animal parasites, such as the malaria pathogen Plasmodium, suggesting an evolutionarily conserved means for delivering effectors that affect host immunity.”

Next, her lab will work on extensively screening other pathogens and identifying their effectors’ direct targets so that novel control strategies can be developed to manage the diseases the pathogens cause.

Ma was joined in the study by UC Riverside’s Yongli Qiao, Lin Liu, Cristina Flores, James Wong, Jinxia Shi, Xianbing Wang, Xigang Liu, Qijun Xiang, Shushu Jiang, Howard S. Judelson and Xuemei Chen; Fuchun Zhang at Xinjiang University, China; and Qin Xiong and Yuanchao Wang at Nanjing Agricultural University, China.

The research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant to Ma and grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to Judelson and Chen.

In 2011, UCR received a $9 million USDA grant  to research late blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans, that mainly attacks potatoes and tomatoes. Last year, UCR released avocado rootstocks that can help control Phytophthora root rot, a disease that has eliminated commercial avocado production in many areas of the world.