Outsmarting blight Solutions in the soil

Late blight of potato, caused by the Phytophthora infestans pathogen, presents a significant challenge to potato crops globally, affecting millions of hectares and causing economic losses due to large reductions in yield. The agricultural sector needs sustainable solutions and effective management strategies- could we find the answers in the soil?

Potatoes can be a particularly complex crop to produce and are increasingly seen as a high-risk for farmers who are already faced with challenges including climate change, disease and pests, customer demands and fluctuations in the political and trade landscape. As we continue to experience warmer temperatures, the threat of fungal-like diseases such as potato late blight is increasing—further compounded by the loss of crop protection products and fungicides used to prevent the loss of entire fields to the disease.  

The most recent Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2022 report showed an 11% decrease in agricultural land planted with potatoes from 2020-2022, with approximately ~30% of UK potatoes imported.  So how can we find a sustainable solution?  

A new project funded through Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme and delivered by Innovate UK, led by Bactobio in partnership with CHAP (one of the three Agri-Tech Centres), is looking at exploiting the soil microbiome to fight late blight of potato. The project will screen Bactobio’s exclusive microbial library to discover bio-derived fungicides targeting P. infestans.  

Bio-derived fungicides utilise naturally occurring microorganisms or their derivatives to combat pathogens that affect plants, offering a natural alternative to synthetic chemicals. These biocontrol agents include viruses, fungi, bacteria or the natural products that they produce, which specifically target plant pathogens and mitigate disease spread. They are an essential part of the future of sustainable agriculture, reducing environmental impact, maintaining biodiversity and improving crop health. 

For the long-term effectiveness of biological crop protection and integrated pest management strategies for potatoes, it is essential for farmers to have access to a variety of effective fungicides. Bactobio harnesses the potential within the diverse microbes that are yet to be explored for their potential as bio-fungicides, as well as solutions to the antibiotic resistance problem and beyond. By employing next generation sequencing, machine learning, and bio-engineering, Bactobio have continued to grow their library to over 2,800 microbes of which are screened for their activity against the pathogen and the active compound isolated.  

To gain deeper insights and hear directly from the individuals driving this project, watch the project video provided below.

If you have any questions about CHAP, or are interested in using any of our facilities or would like to work with us on a specific project, then please send us an email at enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk

Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.