The lack of efficient methods to control the major diseases of crops most important to agriculture leads to huge economic losses and seriously threatens global food security. Pathogenic microbes affecting fruit and vegetables such as potato, soybean, tomato, tobacco and grapevine, secrete number of harmful molecules that allow the microbes to infect and spread along the plant. Nep1-like proteins (NLPs) constitute a large protein family of virulent agents that are prevalent in different microbial taxa such as bacteria, oomycetes, and fungi, and critically contribute to the virulence and spread of the disease. Their pivotal role in plant infection and broad taxonomic distribution makes NLPs an appeling target for the development of novel phytopharmaceutical agents and strategies, which aim to directly interfere with the function of these major microbial virulence factors.
We discovered an entirely new approach to agricultural crops protection against microbial pathogens. We identified small molecular weight compounds that bind to and inhibit the cytotoxic activity of NLPs. As the NLPs are secreted out of the microbial cell, the inhibition is extra-cellular. Therefore, this new targeted approach to control pests affects only specific effector proteins secreted by microbes onto the affected plants. This inhibition disables the microbes’ ability to infect the plant host. Two potent inhibitors of NLP proteins have been identified and their inhibitory potential has been tested on biochemical level, as well as in vivo. The inhibitory effect of the new compounds was confirmed on the toxic activity of the infamous potato pest, oomycete Phytophthora infestans. The preliminary tests show no toxicity on human cells. The compounds identified in this study represent lead structures for further optimization and antimicrobial product development. This new technology could be applied for prevention of plant diseases caused by plant pathogens, which use NLP proteins in their toxicity mechanism, e.g. for controlling oomycetes of the genus Phytophthora causing potato or tomato blight.
- Target crop protection
- Broad spectrum of protection from microbes of diverse taxonomic groups.
- Preliminary results show no toxicity on Caco-2 cells.
- Easily scalable production of the protective compounds.
Fields of use: Crop protection, Sustainable agriculture, Phytopharmaceuticals
Technology Readiness Level: TRL4
Intellectual property: Know how
Partner sought: R&D collaboration to further develop the technology
Next steps needed: Partner search for further development