CREA: a natural vaccine against Gray Mold (IT)


European viticulture alone costs over 100 million euros, but Gray Mold (botrytis cinerea) - one of the most important fungal pathogens - also attacks beans, lettuce, broccoli, small fruits (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.), causing enormous damage, especially in post-harvest, a very important moment for the production of some very fine wines or for table grapes or sultanas.

CREA- the Italian Council for Agricultural Research and Economics, with its Research Center for Viticulture and Oenology, has developed a vaccine that allows plants to defend themselves. The study, published on Biomolecules,, was conducted within the Bioprime project, funded by MIPAAF, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture.

The method

RNA, a natural polymeric molecule (i.e. a macromolecule) involved in various biological roles and present in every living organism, is produced in the laboratory in a natural way, through bacterial fermentation. Once applied to the plant or on the fruits in post-harvest, RNA induces the formation of specific molecules by the plant, which, behaving in a similar way to the animal antibodies, respond when that pathogen attacks the plant and block its growth.

The molecule has been tested on 6-year-old potted vine plants, produced with controlled irrigation, in a semi-natural environment, positioned beside a natural vineyard to make their conditions uniform and to reproduce as much as possible the vineyard situation. Pre-and post-harvest efficacy was as well assessed (out of 72 plants in total).

The results

They are excellent for both experiments, with particular emphasis on post-harvest results: the untreated bunches develop high percentages of grapes attacked by botrytis (over 80%), while, instead, those treated with RNA applications have almost imperceptible damage (below 5%).

It is therefore a sustainable method, capable of acting only on a single pathogen, without all the other microorganisms associated with the plant being affected in any way. This is a very important aspect for the grapevine, because the microbial terroir is an added and characteristic value of the final product. Furthermore, the RNA molecules used are absolutely biodegradable and their production is fully environmentally friendly.

The perspectives

This is just the beginning: "Botrytis was a way of proving the validity of the method, as it allows rapid and easily controllable experiments - say Walter Chitarra and Luca Nerva, CREA researchers who coordinated the study - Given the positive results, we are going to apply, together with the University of Padua entomologists, the method against esca disease and against the Asian bug. So far, we have carried out a first test with bugs raised on tomato plants and the results are very promising. The mortality of bugs on vaccinated plants was almost double compared to control plants. We hope to complete this work by the end of the summer and start experimenting with esca disease. "

Source: CREA