Pathogens that affect wheat crops can infect both the roots and the leaves, causing disease, rot and blotching and can occur at all stages of crop development. Currently, there is no effective silver bullet available, the most common ways to manage disease in wheat is by crop rotation or use of chemical fungicides. The market for cereal fungicides in Europe is more than $2.4 billion and of this, $1.7bn is used on wheat.
The fungal pathogen, Gaeumannomyces tritici, known as take-all disease, is considered to be the most prevalent wheat root disease worldwide. In the UK it is estimated that half of all wheat crops are affected by take-all annually, causing up to 20% of annual yield losses, with over 50% of crops being lost in years of high disease severity.
In wheat crops, there are four key pathogens causing great damage and leading to growers worldwide losing considerable amounts of their crop yields annually. These include Gaeumannomyces tritici, Zymoseptoria triciti, Fusarium species and Pythium species. With pathogen activation environments stemming from a simple splash of rainwater to run-off transporting spores and mowing of soils whilst wet, this is a fundamental problem for growers year after year.
Fungi are naturally occurring microorganisms that live in our soils and, in the right conditions, beneficial fungi can be activated to protect and effectively reduce pathogen infection of crops. Biofungicides for wheat can be effective against more than one pathogen, reducing the overuse of fungicides which has led to an increase in levels of resistance, and improving the health and quality of our soils.
FA Bio is leading the way in discovering superior and effective microbial biofungicides using its unique targeted sampling strategy which allows the company to collect data and microbial isolates from a wide range of agricultural fields and environments. FA Bio’s ultimate objective is to discover new microbial active ingredients and work with partners to develop improved biological products that minimise the environmental impact of agriculture whilst maximising yields.
FA Bio’s unique and powerful SporSenZ tool is provided to growers worldwide to capture active and dominant microbes from agricultural soils which include crop pathogens and beneficial microbes. Using specialised DNA sequencing methodologies, FA Bio’s scientists decipher the molecular richness of microbes collected and identify those with the potential of becoming microbial product candidates. FA Bio is applying nature’s response to different environments, something not possible using traditional methods, to facilitate an increased understanding of the microbial community and help to improve agricultural productivity.
With a targeted sampling approach FA Bio discovers superior, hard to access and field-adapted microbes for targeted applications, resulting in microbes that have excellent field activity for desired crops and climates. With the Global Wheat Market estimated to reach $210 billion by the year 2028, FA Bio is currently focussing its discovery on lead biocontrol candidates for wheat crops.
FA Bio’s Microbial Collection Library
Over the course of three months, from April to June 2022, FA Bio’s R&D team tested microbial candidates from its proprietary microbial library collections that were identified to specifically target wheat pathogens. Over 40% of the tested candidates are currently being progressed to the greenhouse trials, scalability and stability testing to prepare for 2023 field trials.
Such high efficacy in the first testing stage highlights the superiority of the Microbial Collection Library held by FA Bio, which identifies crop-specific soil microorganisms that harness natural microbial responses to biotic and abiotic stresses.
The use of bioagents in crop protection systems remains understudied, particularly in the success of biological control against wheat pathogens, which has meant the use of chemical control has increased to achieve relatively stable yields. The current project by FA Bio to discover potential biofungicides for wheat crops could therefore be revolutionary in pursuing sustainable agriculture and global food security.
“FA Bio’s proprietary, high-efficacy screening and strain selection method, paired with the team’s deep microbiology expertise, its access to Rothamsted Research’s world-class wheat testing facilities and the potential for products to be applied as a seed coating, is an unprecedented combination of factors for the successful development of new biocontrol products to combat devastating diseases of one of the world’s largest crops, wheat” says Andy Renz, a global expert in biological pesticides and advisor of FA Bio. “This will provide growers with effective alternatives to chemical fungicides and represents a unique opportunity for AgTech investors and development partners.”