Scientists in Sussex are waiting to find out whether a new fungicide treatment they are developing to help stop the spread of ash dieback disease could be deployed as a weapon to combat worldwide cereal crop disease.
Created by researchers at the University of Sussex, led by Professor Tony Moore, it is hoped the AOX fungicide treatment could stop the growth of Chalara fraxinea, which causes ash dieback.
The disease could kill up to 99% of Britain’s native ash trees.
Preliminary results of independent trials of AOX at the world-renowned Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, a world leader in plant science, for the treatment of ash dieback suggest “real potential”, according to Professor Moore.
Now the university’s business arm, the Sussex Innovation Centre, has begun negotiations with several agro-companies to shed light on whether AOX could be adapted to create new treatments for dangerous infectious diseases that affect wheat, barley and rice.
Professor Moore said: “Our exciting preliminary results for these novel AOX fungicides suggest that there is real potential for developing treatments that could be used to combat other plant pathogens, particularly those that affect cereal crops such as wheat, barley and rice.
“For example, our treatment might prove more effective than current commercially available fungicides in combating the wheat blast fungus, which causes wheat leaf and head blight diseases and results in significant crop losses worldwide.” He added: “We are in negotiations with a number of agro-companies and we believe over time the picture will become clearer as to how our discovery can be of real benefit in helping to solve cereal crop diseases.”
If developed, the AOX compounds, which stop an enzyme that develops resistance to treatments from working, may be effective for longer on trees affected by ash dieback, with less frequent spraying needed.
Ian Carter, director of research and enterprise at the University of Sussex, said: “We’re delighted that research at Sussex is producing such promising results and helping to provide solutions to real global problems.”
Ash dieback was first reported in Britain in 2012. It was feared that ancient trees in Brighton and Hove could be wiped out by the disease but in January a city council spokesman said there had been no recent sign of symptoms.