Nature’s substances to replace pesticides

Technical University of Denmark

38,400 mould fungi isolates take the lead role in the large research project ‘Smarter AgroBiological Screening’ (SABS). In the project, DTU collaborates with the international company FMC, which produces plant protection such as pesticides for agriculture.

The elusive ‘lead actors’ are stored in plastic tubes with red screw caps at exactly 9°C in a basement at DTU, and they form an internationally recognized collection of fungi that was started in 1988 by university researchers storing the first isolates.

Find more information about the collection

Now, 35 years later, they will be studied carefully along with a minor collection of bacteria. Perhaps, these microorganisms can be used to produce biofungicides, i.e. natural substances that can fight fungal diseases in cereal crops. The expectations are particularly high for mould fungi.

“Biotechnologically speaking, the mould fungus is a really exciting organism, because each fungus has between 50 and 80 biosynthesis pathways. A biosynthesis pathway is a series of reactions inside the organism that enable the production of a bioactive substance. In comparison, a normal bacterium might have six to seven biosynthesis pathways while a yeast cell has none. It makes fungi really rich but also very complex to study. So exploring fungi has great potential, and perhaps we can find substances that can be used for disease control in agriculture,” says Rasmus John Normand Frandsen, Associate Professor at DTU and coordinator of DTU’s share of the project. He elaborates:

“For the vast majority of the substances – possibly up to 95 per cent of them – we have no idea what they are used for or why the microorganisms produce them. But they are made in nature for a reason and perhaps with a purpose we can benefit from.”

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