Integrating Chemistry, Pharmacy and Plant Pathology

Prior to my move to Viçosa, back in 2012, I began interacting with research groups (leaders) of the Pharmacy (Prof. Fuentefria) and Chemistry (Prof. Schrekker) Departments at UFRGS. I was co-advising a doctoral student (Aicha Ribas) on her study on the search for alternatives to standard chemical fungicides for plant disease control. Obviously, our case-study was our favorite disease: Fusarium head blight of wheat. The outcomes of our interaction were quite interesting and the papers have just been published in international journals.

In this doctorate research, we found that one imidazolium salts (IMS), a class of ionic liquid that have been tested by our colleagues for controlling human pathogens, were potent inhibitor of F.graminearum growth and sporulation in vitro. We further achieved good levels of disease reduction in sprayed heads of greenhouse wheat plants comparable to a commercially used fungicide (tebuconazole). However, it worked only when applied preventatively (e.g. prior to inoculating the pathogen) and at the highest dosage (2 ppm) (see the paper in JAM). Whether the IMS reduces mycotoxin levels is yet to be confirmed. Since the disease is suppressed, it is quite likely that toxin levels are also reduced, but evidence is lacking and future studies should focus on field testing.

In parallel, we wrote together a mini-review article on a timely subject that linked our areas very nicely: the use of fungicides in agriculture and the development of fungicide resistance in human pathogens. The paper, published as open-access in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, got some visibility on Twitter and the headline is exactly our message: more research is needed especially for fungal pathogens that cause diseases in both humans and plants.

Plant pathology/epidemiology is an exciting field with lots of challenges and much to gain from interactions with scientists from a diversity of areas. Hope to keep up and expand with such collaborations here at Viçosa.

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