A Lincoln University-led project is utilising the bioactive molecules that microorganisms produce to fight pathogens, to protect forests.
It will to develop an alternative to the agrichemicals now used, and by encouraging tree health, mitigate climate change.
The project, ‘Unlocking the potential of microbial bioactive compounds to promote forest health” led by Dr Artemio Mendoza-Mendoza, was awarded nearly $1 million in the 2023 Endeavour Fund grants. Forestry expert Dr Helen Whelan from Lincoln University is also a key researcher in the project team.
“Our project will develop products that enhance tree health and offer an alternative to agrichemicals to protect forests, reduce environmental costs and help mitigate climate change,” Dr Mendoza-Mendoza said.
“They are anticipated to have high export potential with significant financial benefits to New Zealand.”
To maintain New Zealand’s $6.25 billion forestry industry, 54 tonnes of copper fungicides are sprayed annually against pine pathogens. In addition to being a significant economic cost at $57 million annually, their use also comes with potential environmental, human health and social costs.
Dr Mendoza-Mendoza’s team, and his collaborators at Massey University, have already shown that microbial bioactive compounds (MCBs) isolated from plant-beneficial microorganisms can fight pathogens which cause important foliar diseases in radiata pine, such as Dothistroma needle blight (DNB) and red needle cast (RNC).
“We have already identified two MBCs that can kill the causal agents of DNB and RNC in vitro and promoted pine growth in glasshouse conditions,” he said.
The project proposes to coat the molecules onto seeds and spray them onto existing trees.
“We are testing in glasshouses and then moving some assays (experimental methods for assessing the presence of a substance in living cells) into the field.”
Dr Mendoza-Mendoza said plantation trials would be carried out on the West Coast from winter of 2025 when a batch of treated seedlings will be planted. They will be monitored over the last two years of the project.
He said the potential of bioactive molecules could be an attractive alternative against other tree diseases such as kauri dieback. Unlike exporting live microorganisms, the bioactive can be sold worldwide as a commercial product with fewer restrictions.
Dr Mendoza-Mendoza said the project had strong ties with the forestry sector (PF Olsen, and Ngāi Tahu Forestry), and was supported by seed companies including Proseed Ltd NZ. It is conducted in collaboration with the University of of Canterbury, Massey University and Scion.
Source: Lincoln University