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Sticky proteins could protect crops more safely than chemical pesticides

Science Magazine

Now, researchers have devised a stickier approach to protecting plants, one that could be applied less frequently than chemical pesticides and might be less toxic. They have designed a molecule with two separate chains of amino acids, called peptides. One peptide embeds itself in the waxy surface of a leaf, holding tight in the rain; the other juts out like a spear to attack microbial pests. In a proof of concept published this month in Green Chemistry, lab tests showed the molecules lessened symptoms of soybean rust, a dreaded fungus that causes one of the world's worst agricultural diseases.

The peptides will face many challenges before they can reach the market. But plant pathologists say they could be a flexible new way to protect crops. "With the current scale of the soybean rust problem, and the rapid evolution of resistance against multiple fungicides, any addition to the toolbox would be welcome," says Nichola Hawkins at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, U.K. Ralph Hückelhoven at the Technical University of Munich in Germany also considers the technique promising. "It opens a treasure box of solutions," he says. "It's a bit surprising that no one has done this before."


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