Surface cracks create sites for pathogen invasion. Yew trees (Taxus) hyperbranch from long-lived buds that lie underneath the bark, resulting in persistent bark cracking and deep air pockets, potentially allowing pathogens to enter the nutrient-rich vascular system.
Yew is famous as the source of the anti-cancer diterpenoid drug Taxol. A mystery has been why both the tree and its resident non-pathogenic fungi (endophytes) synthesize Taxol, apparently redundantly. These endophytes, as well as pure Taxol, suppress fungal pathogens including wood-decaying fungi (WDF).
Researchers in the journal Current Biology show that a Taxol-producing fungal endophyte, Paraconiothyrium SSM001, migrates to pathogen entry points including branch cracks.
The fungus sequesters Taxol in intracellular hydrophobic bodies that are induced by WDF for release by exocytosis, after which the bodies can coalesce to form remarkable extracellular barriers, laced with the fungicide.
Authors propose that microbial construction of fungicide-releasing hydrophobic barriers might be a novel plant defense mechanism. They further propose that the endophyte might be evolutionarily analogous to animal immune cells, in that it might expand plant immunity by acting as an autonomous, anti-pathogen sentinel that monitors the vascular system.