Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type





Plant Physiology

First Advisor

Dr. George J. Wagner


Secreted surface proteins are an innate immune defense component employed by animals to inhibit invading microbes. Surface proteins have not been documented in plants, even though the aerial leaf surface, or phylloplane, is a major site of pathogen ingress. We have discovered novel proteins, termed phylloplanins, which accumulate on leaf surfaces of Nicotiana tabacum, and we have isolated the gene Phylloplanin that is unique in gene databases. Natural and E. coli-expressed phylloplanins inhibit spore germination and limit leaf infection by the oomycete pathogen Peronospora tabacina.

We investigated the site of phylloplanin biosynthesis using biochemical techniques. These techniques included radiolabeling of detached trichome glands, radiolabeling of epidermal peels, analysis of leaf water washes of various Nicotiana plants, and examination of guttation fluid, leaf vein contents, and extracellular fluid. From these experiments, we tentatively conclude that phylloplanins are produced by hydathodes, or an unknown surface secreting system, but not by glandular secreting trichomes. Future experiments with the phylloplanin promoter, whose elucidation is described herein, and its fusion to a reporter gene (GUS or GFP), will undoubtedly provide further insight into the location of phylloplanin biosynthesis and deposition. We suggest that the hydrophobic nature of phylloplanins aids in their dispersal over the leaf surface.

Phylloplanins constitute a first-point-of-contact, rapid response, innate immune deterrent to pathogen establishment on N. tabacum leaf surfaces, and are the first studied representatives of a novel protein class in the plant kingdom. Further study of leaf surface proteins is justified to understand further their roles in plant defense, and to investigate their potential in agricultural biotechnology.

Additionally, we describe miscellaneous observations we have made during the course of this research. Low molecular mass proteins (as yet uncharacterized) are washed from leaf surfaces of sunflower, soybean, and other plants. Pathogenesis-related (PR-)-5a, a known antifungal protein, was found to be present on the leaf surfaces of healthy plants, although its function there remains unknown. A phylloplanin homologue from Arabidopsis appears to be antibacterial. Further study of this protein is warranted. We note that proteins can also be recovered from N. tabacum root surfaces, or the rhizoplane, but we have not further characterized these proteins.

In summary, novel surface-accumulated proteins, termed phylloplanins, and the gene encoding these have been discovered in N. tabacum. An antifungal function for phylloplanins is reported, and evidence was found for a unique mechanism of surface deposition.