Algae research could hold solution to devastating kiwifruit disease

[New Zealand] Two University of Waikato students believe marine algae could hold the key to controlling a disease that has devastated New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry.

Claire Voogt​ and Taylor Farr are both studying for a Master of Science and are investigating how the natural metabolites from algae can be used to treat pathogenic bacteria, particularly Psa, which cost the kiwifruit industry an estimated $1 billion in exports when it was discovered on a vine in 2010.

The bacterial disease Psa cost the New Zealand kiwifruit industry $1 billion in exports when it was found in on a vine in 2010. GRAHAME COX SUNNEWS PHOTOGRAPHER

The pair are this years recipients of the Sir Don Llewellyn Fieldays Postgraduate Scholarship where the $22,500 prize is split between them.

Voogt said the competitive nature of coastal ecosystems have resulted in algal compounds evolving as natural chemical defences, and unlike natural products from land-based sources, terrestrial organisms have not encountered marine chemical defences and are therefore less likely to survive after exposure to them.

“Each organism has different features and responds to different conditions or environments, so it’s possible that these marine algae may be exploited to maximise the production of desired compounds and be used in commercial applications,” she said.

The pair will use samples collected from various locations by University of Waikato divers based in Tauranga, prepare extracts, determine their chemical profiles and then test their effects on bacteria.

They will split their lab time between the university and Plant and Food Research’s Psa containment facility at Ruakura. Their project comes under the umbrella of a larger project involving scientists from the university and Plant and Food Research.

Voogt’s main focus will be on one specific species of algae while Farr’s project will investigate several species to identify ones with potentially useful applications, particularly in horticulture.

“Marine organisms are a rich source of useful and diverse natural products, and mostly have properties different from terrestrial organisms, making them useful for various applications on land,” he said.

“What I’m particularly interested in is identifying bioactive natural products that can be used in the horticulture industry to combat pathogens like Psa. It’s important to develop alternative control methods. It means that in time, there may be potential for growing different algae for commercial use across a range of pathogens.”


Photo: Claire Voogt and Taylor Farr will share the 2019 Sir Don Llewellyn Fieldays scholarship with their study to see if marine algae can mitigate the effects of psa in kiwifruit.

View original article at: Sea algae research could hold solution to devastating kiwifruit disease

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