Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Category: CASE Studentships

From macroalgae to antifungals: harnessing the seaweed potential

Project No. 2321

PRIORITY PROJECT

Primary Supervisor

Prof Alessia Buscaino – University of Kent

Co-Supervisor(s)

Dr Michelle Marin – Chau – Nutri-San Limited – Harnessing the Nutritional Power of Seaweed

Summary

This PhD project will explore the use of seaweed to combat animal and plant fungal pathogens.

Why focus on fungal pathogens?

Fungal pathogens are a threat to animal, plant and ecosystem health. Indeed, fungal diseases not only cause ~ 1.5 million human deaths annually but also cause devastating diseases in farm animals and birds. Pathogenic fungi are also a worldwide threat to food security, as they can destroy up to 30% of crop products. There are only three types of effective antifungal drugs, and the widespread overuse of antifungals drives the emergence of drug resistance. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop safe and sustainable alternatives.

Seaweeds as a source of antifungal compounds Seaweed (Macroalgae) is a bio-diverse group distributed worldwide that has evolved to survive multiple threats in the marine environment, including attacks by harmful prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms indigenous to oceans. Consequently, macroalgae produce a diverse range of anti-microbial compounds as a defence mechanism. Seaweed encompasses a variety of species belonging to three groups -Chlorophyta (green algae), Rhodophyta (red algae) and Phaeophyceae (brown algae)- each of which produces different antifungals. For example, brown macro-algae biomass and extracts have been shown to protect against a range of fungal plant pathogens. There is an enormous opportunity to exploit this natural anti-microbial activity. Despite this enormous opportunity, the use of seaweed as a sustainable anti-microbial still needs significant development. Indeed, it is still unknown how the seaweed antimicrobial activity is regulated and active secondary metabolite(s) are largely unidentified.

This PhD project combines our expertise in fungal biology and pathogenicity (Buscaino) with our knowledge in seaweed biology and mechanical engineering (Nutri-San) to understand and exploit the seaweed anti-microbial activities against animal (Candida and Aspegillus species) and plant (Verticillium and Botrytis species) fungal pathogens.