Science - September 23, 2004

New fungus prof warns of dangers

Fungi spread easily over the world and are a danger to agriculture; mutations and resistance to fungicides increase the risks of big outbreaks of disease. Professor Pedro Crous warned of the risks during his inaugural lecture last week as chair of Evolutionary phytopathology.

According to Crous, the risks for Dutch agriculture are likely to come from warmer countries and the former Eastern bloc. Fungi that arrive in fruit and vegetables do not necessarily immediately cause disease, but can become dangerous after mutating. The black sigatoka disease in bananas is an example that Crous and his PhD students will be examining. The leaf fungus that causes the disease, Mycosphaerella fijiensis, is very aggressive and difficult to control. The fungus also develops resistance to fungicides very quickly. The top priorities are therefore genome research and searching for natural resistance genes in the banana.

Crous comes from South Africa, where there is already much expertise on crop diseases. He has worked at the Universities of Orange Free State and Pretoria, as well as the Central Office for Fungus Cultures in Utrecht. He sees opportunities within Wageningen UR and its partner organisations, especially given the expertise in molecular and DNA techniques. / HB

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