Natural organisms found in soil and their use as novel fungicides is being explored in a new collaborative project to help farmers overcome potato late blight.
The work centres on utilising the latest cutting-edge technology to analyse soil microbiomes – the complex interaction of billions of microbial organisms found within soil. The aim is to identify bacteria with fungicidal properties against Phytophthora infestans, with a view to harvesting the active compounds.
Discovery of such novel solutions with new modes of action could significantly improve crop disease management, provide growers with alternative plant protection tools, and support a more sustainable approach to soil management.
The 18-month feasibility study is being led by London-based biotechnology company, Bactobio Ltd, supported by Agri-Tech Innovation Centre, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP).
Dr Mark Wilkinson, chief scientific officer at Bactobio, said: “Providing growers with additional support in the fight against potato late blight is essential, as this disease is a major UK crop threat causing annual losses of up to £0.8 bn.
“To address this, we’ll use Bactobio’s innovative Bacterial Community Cultivation platform (BACCU), which harnesses next generation sequencing, synthetic biology and machine learning approaches.
“Our platform was designed to discovery novel antibiotic solutions, but here we’re extending its application to analyse soil microbiomes from 10 UK potato farms, with the aim of identifying five novel bacterially-derived fungicides.”
To manage late blight, potato crops currently receive more fungicide treatments than any other major arable crop, costing farmers around £50 million per year in pesticide costs. Aside from financial implications, this also contributes to widespread resistance issues and environmental impact.
Richard Glass, Innovation Sector lead at CHAP, said: “Current economic and environmental pressures pose high burdens for British potato growers, but here we plan to exploit a rich bioresource of unexplored bacteria, to discover new naturally-derived fungicides.
“Not only will this provide sustainable control options that help to safeguard the UK potato industry, but it also aligns with the UK Plant Science Research Strategy to develop better, greener soil management practices.
“CHAP is already collaborating with Bactobio on a project to identify new bio-fungicides for Septoria control, so we’re delighted to be continuing this vital discovery work.”
The project is funded by Defra and UKRI through the Farming Innovation Programme (FIP).