A large proportion of global crop yield is annually lost to plant diseases. While pesticides help to reduce these losses, there are growing concerns about pesticide resistance and their impacts on health and environment. The objective of this proof-of-concept project is to develop a crop protection technology that is based on priming of the plant’s own immune system, providing an enhanced defensive capacity to resist attackers. While priming is considered attractive for exploitation in integrated pest and disease management, chemical priming agents have never reached their full economic potential due to undesirable non-target effects on plant growth and yield. My former ERC project (‘Prime-A-Plant ́) has revealed key insights in the mechanisms by which plants perceive and respond to priming-inducing chemicals. We showed that the benefits of priming by beta-aminobutyric acid (BABA) can be uncoupled from the associated stress response (Luna et al. 2014; Nature Chem. Biol.). More recently, we discovered a structural analogue of BABA, R-beta-homoserine (RBH), which primes plant defences against multiple diseases without affecting growth (Buswell et al. 2018; New Phytol.). The current ‘ChemPrime’ project aims to develop these discoveries into a crop protection strategy through co-design with commercial stakeholders. The first project part involves translational research to make the concept more attractive for adoption by commercial stakeholders. We will examine the effectiveness of RBH against a range of economically relevant crop diseases, identify genetic targets in crops to improve the effectiveness of the RBH priming response, assess chemical residues in crop products and waste streams, and optimise RBH formulation for applications in different production systems. The second project part involves engagement activities to initiate collaborative research & development with agri-tech companies and develop the concept into a commercially viable crop protection strategy.
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