Researchers develop a sustainable fungicide to protect crops

Scientists from the University of Exeter have developed a sustainable fungicide to protect crops such as rice and wheat, lessening the threat to global food security.

The growing issue of microbial resistance against fungicides requires the continuous innovation of antifungal treatments.

In order to reduce the threat to global food security, researchers from the University of Exeter have reported their identification of novel mono-alkyl chain lipophilic cations (MALCs) in protecting crops against Septoria tritici blotch in wheat and rice blast disease.

With the discovery that MALCs inhibit the activity of fungal mitochondria, researchers were able to use MALCs to cut down the cellular energy supply, which eventually kills the pathogen.

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.

How C18-SMe2+ can protect global food supplies

C18-SMe2+ generates aggressive molecules inside the mitochondria, which target essential fungal proteins, launching a ’self-destruction’ programme, which ultimately results in ‘cellular suicide’ of the fungus.

When one applies it to crop plants, C18-SMe2+ signals the plant defence system, which prepares the crop for attack. 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.

Study leader, Professor Gero 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.”

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