Alex Mullins publishes paper on re-purposing beneficial bacteria to aid food security

There is an urgent need to address the use of synthetic pesticides, and sustainably intensify agricultural practices to meet global food security demands. Naturally beneficial microorganisms have been successfully exploited to protect crops from attack from a diverse range of pathogens. Burkholderia bacterial seed coats and products were used in US agriculture during the 1980s, however, concerns over their opportunistic pathogenicity in individuals with cystic fibrosis led to a moratorium by the US Environmental Protection Agency on new products.

This study involved a systematic analysis of the bacterial biopesticide Burkholderia ambifaria; combining genomics, metabolite analysis and phenotypic assays of antimicrobial compounds. We identified the gene cluster responsibly for a highly potent anti-oomycetal compound, cepacin, and demonstrated its efficacy in a biological control model using bacterial seed coats. Reductive genomic engineering of B. ambifaria rendered the bacterium less persistent in a murine lung inhalation model, but retained the antimicrobial biopesticidal phenotype.

By demonstrating the efficacy of specific metabolites, targeted biocontrol, and the ability to reduce persistence in a lung model, we are building the foundation for re-purposing the beneficial bacterium for use in sustainable agriculture.

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Alex Mullins. SWBio DTP student

Paper: Genome mining identifies cepacin as a plant-protective metabolite of the biopesticidal bacterium Burkholderia ambifaria by AJ Mullins, JAH Murray, MJ Bull, M Jenner, C Jones, G Webster, AE Green, DR Neill, TR Connor, J Parkhill, GL Challis, E Mahenthiralingam in Nature Microbiology.