Crop diseases represent a significant threat to our agriculture with an estimated loss of 10-15% per year worldwide. Until recently, the agricultural industry has mainly relied on plant breeding to provide resistant varieties and on the use of chemicals to protect susceptible plants. While the first is time-consuming and the resistance provided may not be durable, the second has undesirable environmental consequences.
Pathogen-specific recombinant antibodies expressed ectopically in plant cells are an alternative approach to affect pathogen infectivity and to produce pathogen resistance crop varieties. The efficacy of antibody-based resistance has been shown at Fraunhofer IME for several plant viruses. Recently, the institute has presented the proof of concept that antibodies fused to antifungal peptides provide an effective strategy for development of environmental friendly fungal pathogen resistance.
In a current project, we aim the generation of biologically safe, Aspergillus resistant plants through expression of specific antibody fragments (scFvs) fused to antifungal peptides displaying a strong inhibitory activity to the pathogen. During the first phase of the project highly specific antibodies against Aspergillus spores, mycelium structures and aflatoxin B1 were generated. The development of antibody-based kits for detection of aflatoxin and aflatoxin producing fungi and analyses of pathogen-host interaction in planta are in progress.