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Fungus Muscodor Albus Zaps Crop Pests

Posted by feww on February 20, 2010

PUBLIC RELEASE: USAD Research, Education, and Economics

Fungal fumes clear out crop pests

This release is available in Spanish.

A cocktail of compounds emitted by the beneficial fungus Muscodor albus may offer a biologically based way to fumigate certain crops and rid them of destructive pests. That’s the indication from Agricultural Research Service (ARS) studies in which scientists pitted Muscodor against potato tuber moths, apple codling moths and Tilletia fungi that cause bunt diseases in wheat.


Meet Muscodor albus, a stinky white fungus found growing in the twigs of cinnamon trees in the Honduran jungle. After discovering the fungus’ antimicrobial properties, Montana State University researchers recreated the fumes emitted by the organism in the laboratory.  Credit: Montana State University [Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (1.4 MB)]

The scientists—at ARS laboratories in Aberdeen, Idaho; Wapato, Wash., and other locations—conducted separate studies of Muscodor. However, their goal was the same: to learn whether volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by the fungus could replace or diminish the use of synthetic pesticides.


The gases emitted by the fungus M. albus prevent the growth of brown rot on peaches. A treated batch of peaches is shown here next to a control batch, after a 3-day incubation period.  Credit: Agraquest

In field trials conducted since 2007, ARS plant pathologist Blair Goates found that treating wheat seed or the soil with a formulation of Muscodor and ground rye completely prevented common bunt under moderate disease conditions. Caused by the fungus T. tritici, common bunt reduces wheat yields and grain quality. Although chemical fungicide seed treatments have kept common bunt outbreaks to a minimum, alternative controls are worth exploring if the chemicals lose effectiveness or are discontinued, notes Goates, with the ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit in Aberdeen. Results from this study were published in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology.

At the ARS Yakima Agricultural Research Laboratory in Wapato, entomologist Lerry Lacey and colleagues tested Muscodor against potato tuber moths, which damage potato leaves and tubers, and apple codling moths, which feed inside apples. In fumigation chamber tests, 85 to 91 percent of adult codling moths died when exposed to Muscodor fumes, while 62 to 71 percent of larvae died or failed to pupate. In apple storage tests, a 14-day exposure to Muscodor killed 100 percent of cocooned codling moth larvae, which are especially difficult to control.

Lacey and colleagues have also been testing Muscodor‘s effectiveness in biofumigating sealed cartons of apples stored at various temperatures. The results have been encouraging so far, he reports, and there appears to be no adverse effect on the apples’ color, firmness or other characteristics.

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Read more about this research in the February 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/feb10/pests0210.htm.

Contact: Jan Suszkiw
jan.suszkiw@ars.usda.gov
United States Department of Agriculture-Research, Education, and Economics

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