A new class of promising plant defense inducing molecules

(08-07-2021) The research group of Tina Kyndt specialized in nematology and member of CropFit, develops the next-generation resistance-inducing molecules for sustainable crop protection.

induced systemic resistance article

For this development, the group collaborates closely with professor Bartel Vanholme (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology) in the framework of a bilateral collaboration with the Eastman Chemical Company.

The lead molecules in this project are inhibitors of the plant cinnamic acid-4-hydroxylase (C4H) enzyme, such as piperonylic acid. C4H inhibitors temporarily perturb the plant phenylpropanoid pathway, a key part of plant secondary metabolism with an important role in plant immunity. Phenylpropanoid pathway perturbation reprograms the plant immune system towards induced resistance, a state characterized by higher alertness towards pathogens and enhanced production of plant molecules with anti-pathogen activity. By consequence, plants become more resilient towards plant pathogen attack, resulting in a 30-50% reduction in the severity of diseases caused by various fungal, bacterial and nematode pathogens of crops such as tomato, rice and strawberry. 

Small-scale field trials organized by the Eastman Chemical Company have shown that the effectiveness of C4H inhibitors seen in the lab seems to translate to the field, a key milestone on the journey from lead molecule to novel crop protection product. Because induced resistance operates by strengthening the plant instead of by killing pathogens, resistance inducers are generally safe for non-target organisms and reduce the growing problem of pesticide resistance. This makes resistance inducers key players in the transition to more sustainable crop protection.

This project not only seeks to develop novel lead molecules, but also leverages the globally recognized expertise of Ghent University and VIB in molecular plant biology to study the molecular mechanisms of induced resistance in plants through high-throughput -omics methods. By doing so, the project provides new insights in the field of plant immunology and will facilitate further research into induced resistance. 

Results from this project have been consolidated in a patent application (WO2019122107 – A1) and were recently published in the high-impact plant science journal Plant, Cell & Environment (https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.14119), thereby highlighting how collaboration between academic and corporate partners advances both applied and fundamental science.

This project is jointly funded by VLAIO and Eastman via a Baekeland Mandate (grant nr. HBC.2017.0574). The project started in February 2017 and will end in January 2022.