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US researchers develop new adaptable tool to fight "Fire Blight"

For over two hundred years, apple tree growers have tried desperately to protect their crops from what scientists say is the oldest, most serious and most perplexing bacterial disease of fruit trees. It’s called “Fire Blight.” And the name describes the dried up, scorched look of the affected branches.

Plant pathologists all over the world are in search of an effective way to control Fire Blight epidemics, and a recent discovery in Connecticut could offer growers a new line of defence against the disease.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to help the growers to come up with some ways to combat this disease,” said Quan Cheng, the Assistant Plant Pathologist and Bacteriologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, “as a plant pathologist, I often start my research from a disease problem that really has a big economic value.”

Apple trees contribute about 14 billion dollars to the national economy each year, and its estimated annual losses to Fire Blight are more than 100 million.

Cheng is one of seven authors on a recent study that proved there is a new type of technology that can be used to control fire blight.

His research used a special strand of Peptide Nucleic Acid, PNA. It looks just like DNA. And what this PNA can do is break into the cells of bad bacteria. Then it scans all the bacteria’s DNA to find the essential gene in the bacteria that keeps it alive.   

“So they will come and bind to those essential genes, and once the essential genes are bound by these molecules, those genes will be destroyed,” said Cheng.

Unlike antibiotics that kill all bacteria, good and bad, you can get this to kill only the bad bacteria.

Cheng said this selectivity also means it’s less likely the fire blight bacteria will develop a resistance. But even if it does, it’s easy to fix.

“The beauty of this technique is you can design the sequence, you can write a code. And if the bacteria change their sequence as a result of resistance you can rewrite the code so you overcome this resistance,” said Cheng.

Read more at wshu.org

Publication date: 9/6/2017


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