Protecting plants with their own defences
The world’s increasing demand for food cannot continue to be met by depending on the indiscriminate use of large amounts of fungicides to control microbial pathogens. This unsustainable practice has provided the impetus to investigate molecular processes that occur in both healthy and diseased plants.
Plants produce a vast array of bioproducts that have diverse roles in defending themselves against pests and pathogenic microbes. To counteract the plants’ defence reactions, successful plant pathogens also display an impressive chemical arsenal.
Dr. Soledade Pedras, Canada Research Chair in Bioorganic and Agricultural Chemistry, is investigating the natural reactions of plants to pathogenic microbes to discover natural defence processes that can be used to protect plants. Pedras has discovered unique natural plant defenses that are harmful to pathogens as well as plant pathogens that have weapons that can strike back. She has discovered this “arms race” can be stopped with a new generation of environmentally-safer products called paldoxins that inhibit specific pathways in the pathogens.
Pedras’ strategy could be applied to control several plant fungal diseases and to avoid the persistent use of fungicides on cultivated crops.
Pedras’ research is leading to the discovery of compounds that mimic plant defenses and that will protect crops against microbial diseases. Her approach underscores the importance of preserving and protecting natural and agricultural ecosystems. It will also improve Canada's ability to deal with environmental problems posed by pesticide overuse.