Bioengineering secreted proteases convert divergent Rcr3 orthologs and paralogs into extracellular immune co-receptors

Secreted immune proteases Rcr3 (Required for Cladosporium resistance-3) and Pip1 (Phytophthora- inhibited protease-1) of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) are both inhibited by Avr2 from the fungal plant pathogen Cladosporium fulvum. However, only Rcr3 acts as a decoy co-receptor that detects Avr2 in the presence of the Cf-2 immune receptor. Here, we identified crucial residues in tomato Rcr3 that are required for Cf-2-mediated signalling and bioengineered various proteases to trigger Avr2/Cf-2-dependent immunity. Despite substantial divergence in Rcr3 orthologs from eggplant (Solanum melongena) and tobacco (Nicotiana spp.), minimal alterations were sufficient to trigger Avr2/Cf-2-mediated immune signalling. By contrast, tomato Pip1 was bioengineered with 16 Rcr3-specific residues to initiate Avr2/Cf-2-triggered immune signalling. These residues cluster on one side of the protein next to the substrate-binding groove, indicating a potential Cf-2 interaction site. Our findings also revealed that Rcr3 and Pip1 have distinct substrate preferences determined by two variant residues, and that both are suboptimal for binding Avr2. This study advances our understanding of Avr2 perception and opens avenues to bioengineer proteases to broaden pathogen recognition in other crops.