RNAi technologies for the control of Pine Pitch Canker

Pine Pitch Canker is a disease that causes significant damage and losses in pine forests and plantations. The RNAi4Fusarium project aims to reduce the pathogenicity of the fungus causing Pine Pitch Canker, and minimise the damage caused by the disease.

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Photo: Julio Javier Diez Casero
Photo: Julio Javier Diez Casero

The RNAi4Fusarium project, headed by researcher Julio Javier Diez Casero, focuses on the study of Pine Pitch Canker (PPC), a disease responsible of significant damage and losses in pine forests and plantations, caused by the pathogenic fungus Fusarium circinatum.

The disease reached Europe in 2004, when Spain officially reported the presence of the pathogen in pine nurseries in Asturias. In Spain, the presence of F. circinatum in forest plantations and nurseries has resulted in severe crop losses and decreased profitability of plantations, due to quarantine measures and prohibition of planting susceptible species (Pinus spp. and Pseudotsuga menziesii) in infected areas, high costs invested in monitoring and control, and export bans on timber and other products. Currently, PPC disease in adult trees cannot be effectively controlled. In order to minimise the impact of the disease, an integrated management approach is needed, where the most environmentally friendly control methods are prioritized.

The overall objective of the project is to develop new, sustainable and environmentally friendly methods for the control of PPC, using advanced molecular biology techniques; particularly RNA interference (RNAi) technologies. This technique is a biological mechanism that is now beginning to be used against human diseases, and represents one of the most important scientific advances in the field of molecular biology and genetics in recent years. This discovery, which was awarded with the Nobel Medicine Prize in 2006, makes possible the management of the expression of specific genes of a given organism by means of RNA molecule interference mechanisms. The project plans to design RNA interference molecules specific to certain genes of the pathogenic fungus that can be used to reduce the pathogenicity of the fungus causing PPC, and minimise the damage caused by the disease, through a process called gene silencing. The project is a great opportunity to increase and promote IuFor’s expertise and capabilities in this type of techniques that represent the future in the management of diseases of all kinds.