SFU student researches fungi fighting controls

Oct 05, 2011
SFU doctoral student Andrew Wylie researches how to fight fungi with fungi to rescue greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers from diseases without using chemicals.

(PhysOrg.com) -- If Andrew Wylie achieves his goal -- to use fungi to fight fungi on diseased organic greenhouse vegetables -- there’ll likely be a lot of growers giving him thanks on a future Thanksgiving weekend.

Wylie is a Simon Fraser University doctoral student in biology professor Zamir Punja’s plant pathology lab. He is on a quest to create a toolbox of biological controls that will help both organic and conventional commercial greenhouse vegetables thrive.

Wylie is researching how to use the biocontrol fungus Gliocladium catenulatum to control other that spoil or kill five to 50 per cent of commercial greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers in North America. These vegetables are Canada’s $1.2 billion commercial organic and conventional greenhouse industries’ most valuable crops.

“Gliocladium catenulatum is considered a biological control fungus because it can either directly kill, outcompete or inhibit the growth of others,” says Wylie, the son of specialty mushroom growers. He developed an early fascination with the good and the bad sides of fungi.

Wylie is in partnership with Origin Organic Farms, the industry leader in the field of certified organic greenhouse production.

“Our lab is doing extensive work on how the airborne spores of Penicillium fungus damage greenhouse tomatoes and how the waterborne fungus, Pythium, strangles cucumbers. We need to figure out how these fungi infect and cause disease in their hosts before we can turn to Gliocladium catenulatum as a tool for attacking its fellow fungi.”

While one type of Penicillium produces an antibiotic useful to humans, another shows up as unappealing black spots on harvested tomatoes. Pythium causes a crown rot that girdles cucumbers, cutting off their nutrients and making them vulnerable to other diseases.

Wylie worries that the commercial greenhouse industries’ slim profit margins will tempt growers to take two steps backwards in what has become an industry-wide trend to go organic.

“Of concern to me is that these diseases could be prevented using synthetic fungicides,” says Wylie, who helped develop the technology that enables organic growers to compete with their hydroponic cousins.

“It is important to control tomato — and cucumber — attacking fungi and other greenhouse attackers by better understanding their causes and progression so that organic controls have a fighting chance. By doing this more difficult work now, the momentum of the organic movement is maintained and we build a toolbox of sustainable solutions to use in the future.”

Wylie notes that controlling disease-causing fungi with naturally occurring microbes is an important tool for organic growers who want to maintain their certification. But he adds that conventional hydroponic growers are turning to organic controls because they are less damaging to the environment and can be less costly than synthetic pesticides.

Explore further: Life's extremists may be an untapped source of antibacterial drugs

Provided by Simon Fraser University

5 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The future of organic ornamental plants

Dec 11, 2009

Whether plants are grown for food or ornamental use, conventional agricultural production methods have the same environmental impact. Pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers can find their way into ...

Scientists grow plants with friendly fungi

Aug 08, 2011

Dr. Chris Thornton and colleagues at the University of Exeter are examining whether adding a safe and harmless fungus to compost boosts the growth and proliferation of crops' roots, helping them grow with ...

Recommended for you

Cohesin molecule safeguards cell division

Nov 21, 2014

The cohesin molecule ensures the proper distribution of DNA during cell division. Scientists at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna can now prove the concept of its carabiner-like ...

Nail stem cells prove more versatile than press ons

Nov 21, 2014

There are plenty of body parts that don't grow back when you lose them. Nails are an exception, and a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals some of the r ...

Scientists develop 3-D model of regulator protein bax

Nov 21, 2014

Scientists at Freie Universität Berlin, the University of Tubingen, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) provide a new 3D model of the protein Bax, a key regulator of cell death. When active, Bax ...

Researchers unwind the mysteries of the cellular clock

Nov 20, 2014

Human existence is basically circadian. Most of us wake in the morning, sleep in the evening, and eat in between. Body temperature, metabolism, and hormone levels all fluctuate throughout the day, and it ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.