Crop Biotech Update

Plants as Antifungal Factories

December 12, 2018

Researchers from the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) at the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) and the Institute for Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology (IBMCP), in collaboration with the IATA, have developed a biotechnological tool to produce, in a very efficient manner, antifungal proteins in plants. The research, published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal could impact the agri-food and pharmaceutical sectors.

Maria Coca, a researcher at CRAG and one of the senior authors of the study, explains that only a few classes of antifungal agents are available today. She adds that these are not fully effective due to the development of resistance, host toxicity, and undesirable side effects. Many of these compounds cannot be used because they do not comply with the regulations. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop novel antifungals which can be applied in diverse fields, including crop and postharvest protection, preservation in cosmetics, materials and food, and animal and human health.

Through genetic engineering, CSIC researcher José Antonio Daros and his team modified the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) so that, instead of producing its own pathogenic proteins, it produced other proteins of interest. Coca's team then implemented this tool to produce antifungal proteins in leaves of the Nicotiana benthamiana plant and discovered that these leaves produced large quantities of these new antifungals. The researchers also showed that extracts from the N. benthamiana plants are active against pathogenic fungi and could protect tomato plants from the fungus Botrytis cinerea, better known as gray mold.

For more details, read the news release from CRAG.