THERE could be some new artillery coming to the front line in the fight against that scourge of many avocado and pineapple growers; phytophthora.
University work is being done on the biofungicide, BioClay, to determine how effective it will be on controlling pathogens that cause infected pineapple plants to wilt and die.
The University of Queensland project is looking at minimising losses caused by plant pathogens.
Project leader molecular plant pathologist Dr Anne Sawyer is developing biofungicides to combat pathogens that affect pineapple, avocados, and native Myrtaceae tree species.
Within that is Phytophthora cinnamomi, a fungal-like organism transmitted through soil that causes root rot.
"Phytophthora is the most dreaded pineapple pathogen in Queensland and worldwide, infecting plants throughout production," Dr Sawyer said.
"It causes rotting of roots and anthocyanescence (reddening or purplish coloration) of foliage.
"Phytophthora is also one of the main factors limiting avocado yields in Queensland. Phytophthora-affected trees produce small, poor-quality fruit."
Australia produces about 35 million each year, most of which come from Queensland.
According to the 2020/21 Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook, for the year ending June 2021, the wholesale value of the fresh supply was $44 million with $37.7m distributed into retail and $5.3m into food service.
UQ's professor Neena Mitter and professor Zhi Ping (Gordon) Xu pioneered the non-toxic RNA-based sprays, known as BioClay, to prevent a range of agricultural diseases and threats.
Dr Sawyer said the new biofungicides were designed to improve fruit quality, boost production efficiency, and reduce the use of chemicals in food production.
"BioClay uses a gene silencing technology that is precise and specific in the way it helps plants defend against pathogens," she said.
"It is an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemical pesticides and leaves no residue on the produce."
Dr Sawyer is testing BioClay on pineapple tops and avocado seedlings to measure how effectively it protects against root rot.
Dr Sawyer said researchers were looking at using the technology to target insect pests as well as viruses and fungi.
Dr Sawyer's work is supported by an Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships which fund research that has an economic benefit to the state.
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