Dr Rebecca Hall – University of Kent
Dr Lucas Shuttleworth – NIAB EMR
Filamentous fungi of the order Mucorales are ubiquitous in the environment and their spores are easily spread by aerosols leading to contamination of food products like soft fruits and vegetables.
It is estimated that fungal contamination can result in a loss of up to 50% of some food products. In addition to causing food spoilage, fungi also secrete toxins that can cause sickness if contaminated food is consumed. Therefore, preventing fungal growth and contamination is essential to decrease the rate of spoilage of these food products. However, many of these fungi are resistant to commercially used antifungals, indicating that a novel approach to eradicate these fungi is required.
Fungi and bacteria are always in competition for nutrients, which has led to the evolution of antimicrobial compounds. In this regard, fungi have been widely exploited for their production of antibiotics, yet exploitation of bacteria for antifungal compounds is minimal. We have identified several bacterial species that exhibit antifungal activities against filamentous fungi important to the food industry. The focus of this studentship will be to identify and characterise the molecular mechanisms exploited by these bacteria to kill these fungi and to elucidate the use of the identified compounds as potential treatments to reduce food spoilage. To achieve this, the student will use a range of state-of-the-art omics and microscopy technologies, in combination with molecular and cellular biology to identify the compounds and determine their mode of action. Then, in collaboration with Lucas Shuttleworth at the EMR, the student will develop in planta models for testing the efficacy of the identified compounds for inhibiting fungal growth and toxin production in fresh fruits.
This project will identify soluble chemical mediators that have the potential to be used post-harvest to protect against fungal spoilage. The discovery of such molecules has the potential to have a large impact on food sustainability.