Destruction of blueberry crops caused by Pseudomonas syringae is a major concern in BC as it leads to significant economic losses. To control this pathogen, copper-based pesticides are conventionally applied, however the concomitant development of resistance to these controls and potential for environmental contamination has necessitated the development of alternative strategies.
To this end, Dr. Syun Wang from UBC and Dr. Karen Wang from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada are working together to design, validate, and commercialize a novel bacteriophage formulation for treatment of P. syringae-induced bacterial blight of blueberries.
Bacteriophages (phages) are naturally occurring viruses that can infect and kill bacteria. Thus, they can be used to treat bacterial infections. Phages offer several advantages, such as being sustainably sourced from the environment; non-toxic to human, plant and animal cells; and considered green “organic”.
To develop an effective phage formulation, the team will assess the top P. syringae strains of concern in BC blueberry plants using comparative genomics, establish a collection of phages that will productively infect the most pathogenic strains, validate and test the optimal phage combination with high-throughput sequencing and screening, test the strength and feasibility of this cocktail in a model system with blueberry plants, and begin steps towards commercialization of this phage formulation.
Coupled with the power of genomics, this project will provide an innovative solution to improve the health of berry crops while reducing environmental impacts of conventional approaches such as copper. The impact of the BC floods led to a loss of >2,500 acres of fruit crops which also contaminated surface waters with high levels of pesticides and residues. The project presents a strategy to effectively reduce the incidence and severity of bacterial blight, while concurrently enabling berry producers to effectively meet climate and organic production goals.