Posted on 1 May 2019
Dr Ville Friman, of the Department of Biology, has been awarded a Royal Society Challenge-led Grant to further his research into the use of pathogen-specific viruses - called phages - as a means of combating bacterial wilt in crop production.
Bacterial wilt is present in the UK but is most problematic in East Asia, affecting 90 per cent of provinces in China and has spread throughout Indonesia. It affects a range of crops including tomato plants, cassava, potatoes and bananas.
Phages are viral parasites which destroy the causes of wilt - Ralstonia solanacearum pathogenic bacterium. Their use in combating disease is not new but their effectiveness can be inconsistent. Dr Friman’s research will focus on the development of more consistently effective treatments by using phages in combinations.
“My research focuses on developing novel biocontrol method against bacterial wilt disease using phages” says Dr Friman. “Even though this pathogen also occurs in the UK, it causes more severe damage in Asia. So controlling bacterial wilt infections locally is very important, and this award allows me to achieve this.”
The work will be carried out in collaboration with researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University in China, and Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia.
“Our ongoing greenhouse and field experiments in China suggest that phage combinations can reduce bacterial wilt disease incidence up to 80 per cent and have positive effects on the diversity of rhizosphere microbiome. The awarded project will expand this work to trial phage-based biocontrol in Indonesia and develop phage combinations that retain their efficiency across wide temperature ranges in collaboration with local farmers and industries in both countries.”
The award follows a call in 2018 for solutions to the world’s most challenging issues of resilience. In response, 15 consortia from across the world came up with research ideas ranging from tsunami resilience and a circular economy of sanitation, to fishery stewardship in a warming climate and a clearer understanding of HIV-related cancers.
Launched as a cross-academy initiative by the UK National Academies - The British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Royal Society - Challenge-led Grants aim to foster collaboration between disciplines and countries with each consortium being composed of one research group from the UK and two from developing countries.
The grants are part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5bn fund announced by the UK Government to support cutting-edge research and innovation that addresses the global issues faced by developing countries.