Nav: Home

Exeter researchers discover a novel chemistry to protect our crops from fungal disease

March 30, 2020

Pathogenic fungi pose a huge and growing threat to global food security.

Currently, we protect our crops against fungal disease by spraying them with anti-fungal chemistries, also known as fungicides.

However, the growing threat of microbial resistance against these chemistries requires continuous development of new fungicides.

A consortium of researchers from the University of Exeter, led by Professor Gero Steinberg, combined their expertise to join the fight against plant pathogenic fungi.

In a recent publication, in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications, they report the identification of novel mono-alkyl chain lipophilic cations (MALCs) in protecting crops against Septoria tritici blotch in wheat and rice blast disease.

These diseases challenge temperate-grown wheat and rice, respectively, and so jeopardise the security of our two most important calorie crops.

The scientists' journey started with the discovery that MALCs inhibit the activity of fungal mitochondria.

Mitochondria are the cellular "power-house", required to provide the "fuel" for all essential processes in the pathogen.

By inhibiting an essential pathway in mitochondria, MALCs cut down the cellular energy supply, which eventually kills the pathogen.

Whilst Steinberg and colleagues show that this "mode of action" is common to the various MALCs tested, and effective against plant pathogenic fungi, one MALC that they synthesised and named C18-SMe2+ showed unexpected additional modes of action.

Firstly, C18-SMe2+ generates aggressive molecules inside the mitochondria, which target life-essential fungal proteins, and in turn initiate a "self-destruction" programme, which ultimately results in "cellular suicide" of the fungus.

Secondly, when applied to crop plants, C18-SMe2+ "alerts" the plant defence system, which prepares the crop for subsequent attack, thereby increasing the armoury of the plant against the intruder.

Most importantly, the Exeter researchers demonstrate that C18-SMe2+ shows no toxicity to plants and is less toxic to aquatic organisms and human cells than existing fungicides sprayed used in the field today.

Professor Steinberg said: "It is the combined approach of Exeter scientists, providing skills in fungal cell biology (myself, Dr Martin Schuster), fungal plant pathology (Professor Sarah J. Gurr), human cell biology (Professor Michael Schrader) and synthetic chemistry (Dr Mark Wood) that enabled us to develop and characterise this potent chemistry.

"The University has filed a patent (GB 1904744.8), in recognition of the potential of this novel chemistry in our perpetual fight against fungi.

"We now seek partners/investors to take this development to the field and prove its usefulness under 'real agricultural conditions'. Our long-term aim is to foster greater food security, in particular in developing nations."

Professor Steinberg added: "I always wanted to apply my research outside of the ivory tower of academia and combine the fundamental aspects of my work with a useful application.

"The visionary approach of the Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) provided me with this opportunity, for which I am very grateful. In my mind, this project is a strong example of translational research that benefits the public."

Professor Sarah Gurr said: "This is such a timely and important study. We are increasingly aware of the growing burden of plant disease caused by fungi and of our need to safe-guard our calorie and commodity crops better.

"The challenge is not only to discover and describe the mode of action of new antifungals but to ensure that chemistries potent against fungi do not harm plants, wildlife or human health.

"This new antifungal is thus an exciting discovery and its usefulness may extend beyond crops into the realms of fungal disease in humans and, indeed to various applications in the paint and preservative industries. This merits investment!"
-end-
The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The paper, published in the Journal Nature Communications, is entitled: "A lipophilic cation protects crops against fungal pathogens by multiple modes of action", authored by G. Steinberg, M. Schuster, S.J. Gurr, T. Schrader, M. Schrader, M. Wood, A. Early and S. Kilaru.

University of Exeter

Related Fungi Articles:

Impulse for research on fungi
For the first time, the cells of fungi can also be analysed using a relatively simple microscopic method.
Fungi as food source for plants
The number of plant species that extract organic nutrients from fungi could be much higher than previously assumed.
Bark beetles control pathogenic fungi
Pathogens can drive the evolution of social behaviour in insects.
Using fungi to search for medical drugs
An enormous library of products derived from more than 10,000 fungi could help us find new drugs.
Plants and fungi together could slow climate change
A new global assessment shows that human impacts have greatly reduced plant-fungus symbioses, which play a key role in sequestering carbon in soils.
Make fungi think they're starving to stop them having sex, say scientists
Tricking fungi into thinking they're starving could be the key to slowing down our evolutionary arms race with fungal pathogens, as hungry fungi don't want to have sex.
How plants react to fungi
Using special receptors, plants recognize when they are at risk of fungal infection.
Clostridium difficile infections may have a friend in fungi
The pathogen Clostridium difficile, which causes one of the most common hospital-acquired infections in the United States, may have accomplices that until now have gone largely unnoticed.
A 'crisper' method for gene editing in fungi
A team of researchers from Tokyo University of Science, Meiji University, and Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, led by Professor Takayuki Arazoe, has recently established a series of novel strategies to increase the efficiency of targeted gene disruption and new gene 'introduction' using the CRISPR/Cas9 system in the rice blast fungus Pyricularia (Magnaporthe) oryzae.
Are no-fun fungi keeping fertilizer from plants?
Research explores soil, fungi, phosphorus dynamics.
More Fungi News and Fungi Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.