Fighting forest-killing fungi » The MacDiarmid Institute
Fighting forest-killing fungi

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Fighting forest-killing fungi

TOP: Dr Volker Nock, Associate Professor Ashley Garrill and Dr Ayelen Tayagui. BOTTOM: A microfluidic chip

TOP: Dr Nock with University of Canterbury Colleagues Associate Professor Ashley Garrill and MacDiarmid Institute Research Assistant Dr Ayelen Tayagui. BOTTOM: A microfluidic chip is filled with dye colored water using a pipette. The same process is used to exchange media needed to keep fungi and oomycetes alive in the chips.

Kauri dieback disease and myrtle rust are threatening New Zealand forests and our horticulture industry. The diseases are caused by pathogens – an oomycete (water mould) is responsible for Kauri dieback while a fungus causes myrtle rust.

MacDiarmid Institute researchers are studying the mechanics behind the growth of the two pathogens as a key step towards their eradication. These fungi and water mould cells form strong thread-like structures called hyphae. In their search for food, the hyphae can grow invasively and penetrate the cells of other plants, such as our native trees.

Principal Investigator Dr Volker Nock, University of Canterbury, and his colleagues have developed a novel “lab-on-a-chip” platform to measure the forces behind the hyphae growth. Known as microfluidics, this is a multidisciplinary field that deals with the behaviour, precise control and manipulation of minute amounts of fluids. Dr Nock’s microfluidic system will hopefully find new ways of stop the pathogens from penetrating the cells of Kauri, Pohutukawa, feijoa etc.

The threat from pathogenic fungi is not just contained to New Zealand; it is a global problem. As the world’s climate changes, the zones where we can grow our staple crops will move too, making them more susceptible to attack by these microorganisms. This means the microfluidic lab-on-a-chip has potential to solve problems on an international scale.

If the lab-on-a-chip works, it will be so exciting and could have a huge impact.

Dr Volker Nock MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator University of Canterbury

More information

More information on the fungi research: 2018 Annual Report - page 24