Phytopathology and Crop Protection
Dr. Ofir Degani’s Research Group
Dr. Ofir Degani's group's research is based on molecular, biochemical, and phytopathological approaches and focuses on the understanding and prevention of plant fungal diseases. His group has been leading the research in Israel for the past decade on Magnaporthiopsis maydis, the agent of the late wilt of corn. Additional soil fungal diseases that are currently the focus of Dr. Degani’s lab research are Fusarium verticillioides, the causal agent of maize stalk rot, Macrophomina phaseolina, the causal agent of charcoal rot, and Fusarium spp., the causal agents of onion (Allium cepa) basal rot.
Current ongoing research topics:
Study the “plant disease triangle” - the combined influence of the host plant, the fungal pathogen, and the environment on plant diseases and crop protection.
Chemical protection (using seed treatments, spraying, and dripline irrigation) of maize and other crops against fungal pathogens.
Develop biological approaches to protect crops from soil diseases. This includes the use of biocontrol agents (fungi and bacteria), strengthening soil mycorrhizal networks (the soil microbiome), manipulating the plants’ natural endophytes (the plant microbiome), and enhancing the plants’ natural defense system.
Investigate the interactions between phytopathogenic fungi and their combined influence on crop disease burst and severity.
Maize late wilt disease research
Research plan and challenges:
The growing trend of reducing pesticides’ use raises the need for alternative ways of coping with severe fungal diseases such as the late wilt of maize. Hence, we propose developing two environmentally friendly strategies to control maize late wilt disease, for which we have gained positive preliminary results. First, maintaining the continuity of soil mycorrhizal fungi between seasons has proven to be an essential factor in various field crops. Still, it has not yet been tested against the late wilt pathogen in Israel. The potential of strengthening soil mycorrhizal networks against the soil fungal pathogen has only now started to be revealed. The unique case of late wilt disease and the encouraging preliminary results provide an excellent opening stage and opportunity to investigate this control method. In order to do this, we will be required to:
- Repeat and establish the results using a greenhouse pot experiment over a full growth period
- Identify the mycorrhizal fungi involved
- Examine ways of strengthening the desired soil mycorrhizal networks
- Extend the research to field experiments
Similarly, in recent years we have conducted research with a new Trichoderma spp. isolates and achieved promising results. Consequently, we propose using the effective Trichoderma spp. or their extract in order to prevent the penetration and establishment of the M. maydis pathogen at the early growth period of maize. Thus we suggest using the late wilt controlling agents – Trichoderma isolates – and developing application methods to implement them. This goal will require several steps:
- Identifying the active compound/s in the Trichoderma extract
- Examining ways of enhancing the secretion of these ingredients
- Applying the Trichoderma hyphae or the extract and examining it in sprouts (up to the age of 40 days) under controlled conditions in a growth chamber
- Examining the Trichoderma (extract and hyphae) seed coating against direct application of the fungi or their section to the soil under field conditions over a full growth period
We are now specializing in two important and severe corp diseases: cotton charcoal rot, caused by Macrophomina phaseolina, and onion (Allium cepa) basal rot caused by Fusarium sp. The challenges of developing efficient and cost-effective strategies to reduce the diseases’ damages include:
- Study these pathogens and their interactions with the host, under different environmental conditions.
- Undersending the involvement of other fungal phytopathogens in the diseases’ outburst and damages.
- Develop a new research tool-kit to study those diseases.
- Search for new ways (chemical, biological, and agro-mechanical) to restrict those diseases’ harmful effects and prevent their spreading