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Newly Discovered Fungi Controls Plant Pests and Diseases
(March 18, 2003)

A biological process using three different types of fungi to control common plant diseases and mite pests has been developed by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences. Use of these fungi enables crops to overcome plant diseases and pests without having to apply chemical pesticides, says Abraham Sztejnberg, the Hebrew University's Professor of Agriculture, a member of the research team. The fungi have been found to be effective in controlling powdery mildew diseases and plant mites (a pest relative of spiders), both of which cause widespread damage to field crops, flowers and fruit trees.

Sztejnberg said in a press statement on March 16, 2003 that billions of dollars are spent annually in developed countries for controlling mites and powdery mildews with chemical pesticides. Pesticide controls have met with resistance problems, Nevertheless, members of the two damage-causing groups have been able to develop resistance to these counter-measures, making it necessary to change the pesticides often - thus adding even more to the costs.

The effectiveness of the three fungi was discovered in joint research involving scientists at the Hebrew University and others at the Central Bureau voor Schimmelcultures in Holland, and at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in Key Biscayne, Florida.

The fungi used by the scientists are newly discovered genera and species that have only recently become known. They are natural entities that have not been transformed by genetic engineering, but were identified by morphological, biochemical and molecular biology techniques. Their unique anti-mite and anti-powdery mildew qualities were demonstrated in laboratory and fieldwork.

The discovery is seen as a breakthrough for biological control of plant disease and pest control, which does not cause environmental damage to the soil, say the scientists.

A report on the research will appear in the July 2003 issue of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The research is continuing, while researchers seek a patent and explore commercializing their findings.

For additional information, contact Jerry Barach at the Hebrew University at jerryb@savion.huji.ac.il or 972-2-588-2904. For information on non- and least-toxic control of specific pest problems, see Beyond Pesticides' alternative factsheets.