University of Alicante is working on a cure for Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that kills almond trees
Within the context of a project co-led by the UA microbiologist Francis Mojica from the Montgó-Dénia Research Station
Scanning electron microscope photograph of Xylella fastidiosa. The white scale bar corresponds to 5 microns (1/200 of a millimetre). Photograph by J.E.O. de Lima and collaborators in the journal Plant Disease, vol.82, No. 1, p.94. 1998.
Alicante, Friday 19 February 2021
The University of Alicante is working on a potential cure for the pest that plagues almond trees in the northern regions of the province of Alicante, the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium, through an agreement with the Valencian Regional Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, Climate Emergency and Ecological Transition.
The agreement describes a four-year funding commitment to develop a research project to implement microbiological strategies and combat the growth of Xylella fastidiosa in the Valencia Region, with three experts from the University of Alicante as principal investigators: Francis Mojica, microbiologist and discoverer of the CRISPR genetic repair system, Jesús García, also a microbiologist; and Cesar Bordehore, biologist and expert in modelling dynamic systems and coordinator of the Montgó-Dénia Research Station (ESCIMO-Dénia).
The project, which is being developed both in the UA on-campus laboratories and at the Montgó Research Station in Dénia, aims to address a solution to this plant disease by using natural proteins encoded in the genome of Xylella fastidiosa itself. Although the technique is still at an early stage, at least at the laboratory level, active molecules have been identified (known as endolysins) that could be candidates for a future preventive vaccine-like action (although it is not really a vaccine) or an action similar to the effect of an antibiotic to fight against this plague present in several countries and different plant species, as explained by Cesar Bordehore. This research is not only a starting point to tackle the problem with almond trees in the region, but it is also affecting other species (olive trees, citrus fruits, vines, among others) in different countries around the world, so its impact could be significant in this sector.
Data from the Regional Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, Climate Emergency and Ecological Transition on the situation of Xylella fastidiosa in the region of Valencia, during 2017-2019, indicate that plants in 60 municipalities were infected with 2,764 positive samples. The results of the surveys carried out in 2020 (as of 16 November) show 428 positive samples in 17 municipalities in Marina Alta and Marina Baixa.
Regional Secretary for Employment Enric Nomdedéu, already reported at the beginning of December the most negative data in terms of job losses in the Region had occurred in the Marina Alta. This was due to the high relevance of the service sector in this region, and he asked for an effort to promote a change of production model with projects like this to reflect a support for Science from the regional administration and also from the Dénia town council, from where the Montgó-Dénia Science Station has been promoted since its creation, as said by the ESCIMO coordinator
Montgó-Dénia Research Station
The Montgó-Dénia Research Station (ESCIMO) is the result of an agreement between the University of Alicante, the Dénia Town Council and the Spanish Network of National Parks, with the aim of promoting applied research in Dénia and the Marina Alta county, where there is a privileged natural environment (both terrestrial and marine). It is a laboratory dependent on the UA, through the ‘Ramón Margalef’ Multidisciplinary Institute for the Environment located in the former IRYDA premises, property of the Spanish Network National Parks.
This firm commitment of the Dénia Town Council to research in the natural environment and applied science is beginning to bear fruit in different fields of science (microbiology, epidemiology, marine pollution, water pollution, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration, coastal dynamics, beach safety, among others). According to Cesar Bordehore, it will undoubtedly contribute to the longed-for change in the production model and to the improvement of our natural environment and our quality of life. The research carried out at the Montgó Research Station has been published in several scientific journals and has been presented at a number of international conferences. Moreover, an extensive network of scientists from different disciplines and institutions, both in Spain and internationally, have contributed with their research works.