Fighting fungi with fungi.
That’s how an Ontario company plans to use an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) discovery to control fusarium head blight in wheat and other cereal crops.
Adjuvants Plus Inc. at Kingsville, Ont. has reached a 10-year licensing agreement with AAFC to use its patented technology — a fungal organism called Clonostachys rosea, strain ACM941, which when applied to cereals can greatly reduce fusarium infections.
“It (ACM941) really prevents it (fusarium) getting into the plant,” Adjuvants Plus Inc. president Bill Brown said in an interview Aug. 14. “It’s there first. It’s simple site occupation followed by food source denial. And if it really gets ticked off it eats it.
“It’s kind of like a guard dog — it keeps you against the fence unless it gets hungry.”
Fusarium head blight can reduce wheat yield and quality and has cost Canadian farmers $1.5 billion since the 1990s, according to Brown. It can also produce vomitoxin, preventing wheat from being used for human consumption or even livestock feed.
ACM941 is a year or two away from registration and commercialization, Brown said. When it hits the market farmers will have to learn to take care applying it, he added, since ACM941 is a living organism. To work it must “infect” the wheat, but it doesn’t hurt the crop while helping to ward off fusarium, Brown said.
“With this product you must achieve colonization,” he said. “It must get inside the plant and grow. It’s the Holy Grail.
“We are shifting the microflora in favour of a beneficial and keeping at bay the pathogens.”
Adjuvants Plus recently secured a new adjuvant system from Cornell University, which makes ACM941’s control more consistent, Brown said.
“It can double and triple the amount of inoculation that we’re getting.”
Getting good results hinges on good crop coverage. That means using lots of water, slowing down, using two directional nozzles and not spraying when it’s sunny and hot. Ideally ACM941 should be applied when it’s cloudy, humid and warm — the same conditions that make wheat susceptible to fusarium infection.
Isolated in Manitoba
ACM941 could cost more than chemical fungicides, in part because of the time it takes to make it, Brown said. But he isn’t worried the extra cost or management will discourage sales. Once innovative farmers have success with it, others will follow, he said.
ACM941 will likely be approved as an organic treatment. It will also be valuable in an integrated pest management program providing farmers with another mode of action for controlling fusarium.
AFC plant pathologist Allen Xue isolated Clonostachys rosea ACM941 from the lower leaf of a field pea plant in Manitoba while working at the Morden Research Centre.
Xue is now at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre.
AAFC patented ACM941 in 1999 after Xue demonstrated it inhibited soil-borne and seed-borne fungal pathogens.
“Results of this research project suggest that ACM941-CL01 is an effective biocontrol product that can be used as a foliar application… for the control of FHB (fusarium head blight), or used as a spray treatment for crop residues to inhibit G. zeae perithecial production, thus reducing the initial inoculum of FHB,” Xue wrote in a 2010 paper on AAFC’s website. “It is anticipated that the bioagent may be used as an alternative to fungicides or incorporated as a part of an integrated disease management system for a pesticide risk reduction strategy.”
The best treatment reduced the area under the disease progress curve by 43 per cent and cut the infected spikelets, fusarium-damaged kernels and DON (toxin deoxynivalenol) by 45, 43 and 28 per cent, respectively, while increasing yield by seven per cent in the field tests, compared to untreated controls.
“I am pleased to learn that our years of hard work have finally come to fruition,” Xue said in a news release. “I look forward to seeing the commercial production of this new biofungicide and the positive impact it will have on Canadian agriculture and food safety.”
Brown believes ACM941 may also work on other field and horticultural crops, including those in the greenhouse industry.
AAFC’s Pesticide Risk Reduction Program has worked closely with its Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization and will provide Adjuvants Plus Inc. with regulatory assistance in submitting its application to Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency to seek regulatory approval. The Pesticide Risk Reduction Program assists with the registration of biological pest control products that have been prioritized by growers.