A consortium of researchers from the University of Exeter led by Professor Gero Steinberg has combined their expertise to join the fight against plant pathogenic fungi. The researchers have identified the novel mono-alkyl chain lipophilic cations (MALCs) in protecting crops against Septoria tritici blotch in wheat and rice blast disease.
Crops are protected against fungal diseases by fungicide sprays. However, the growing threat of microbial resistance against fungicides requires the continuous development of new ones. The research team started their work with the discovery that MALCs inhibit the activity of fungal mitochondria. As MALCs inhibit an essential pathway in mitochondria, they cut down the cellular energy supply, which eventually kills the pathogen.
Steinberg and colleagues synthesized one MALC that showed unexpected additional modes of action and named it C18-SMe2+. C18-SMe2+ generates aggressive molecules inside the mitochondria, which target life-essential fungal proteins, and in initiates self-destruction, which ultimately results in "cellular suicide" of the fungus. When applied to crop plants, C18-SMe2+ "alerts" the plant defense system, preparing the crop for subsequent attack and increasing the armory of the plant against the intruder.