Cercospora leaf spot disease
symptoms on a sugar beet leaf.
In 2001, U.S.
farmers grew more than 25 million tons of sugar beets and provided the country
with about half its sugar supply. They also applied thousands of pounds of
fungicide to sugar beet leaves to battle leaf spot disease, one of the most
widespread diseases affecting the crop.
Leaf spot, which results in root yield loss and reduced sugar
content of beets, is caused by the fungus Cercospora beticola. Although
fungicides help effectively manage the disease, C. beticola is
developing resistance to some currently in use. This has spurred research into
alternate management strategies.
Now, plant pathologist Robert Lartey and microbiologist TheCan
Caesar-TonThat of ARS' Northern Plains
Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Montana, may have found a way to
combat leaf spot disease using an enemy already in the soil.
A plane sprays a sugar beet
field with fungicide. The
fungus Cercospora beticola,
which causes leaf spot disease,
is developing resistance to
some fungicides currently used
| When a sugar beet plant is infected
with C. beticola, the attacking fungus produces a toxin called
cercosporin. When the toxin is exposed to light, it reacts with oxygen to
produce superoxide anions and singlet oxygen, which are also known as free
radicals. These molecules attack the fatty acids that make up plant membranes.
Eventually the membranes rupture, and the plant cells die. If enough plant
cells die, the sugar beet's leaves will exhibit the disease's characteristic
spots, which are actually colonies of fungi feeding on degraded plant
In looking for a biological control agent to use against leaf
spot, Lartey and Caesar-TonThat focused their search on other types of fungi.
They discovered a few promising species that seemed to inhibit the growth of
C. beticola and concentrated on a basidiomycete fungus called
Basidiomycetes are most closely associated with forests and
wood decay, but they are actually found in many types of soil, including those
on agricultural lands where sugar beets grow. They produce different enzymes
that break down lignin and release cellulose and hemicellulose from plants.
Caesar-TonThat and Lartey were able to isolate certain enzymes
from the basidiomycete L. arvalis and test them in the lab. One enzyme
in particularlaccaseworked very well in degrading and detoxifying
the cercosporin toxin.
The researchers believe laccase could become an all-natural
enzymatic solution for preventing leaf spot disease. Caesar-TonThat explains,
"The purpose of the cercosporin toxin on the host plant seems to be to
provide, indirectly, a food source for the fungal pathogen, C. beticola.
If we degrade cercosporin with laccase, we may be able to starve the
Adds Lartey, "Applying some form of the enzyme to sugar
beet plants could prevent leaf spot from occurring."
The researchers were so successful with their lab experiments
that they filed a patent application on their discovery. Their next step will
be to test the enzyme in greenhouse studies and, if those go well, to test it
on field crops.By Amy Spillman,
formerly with ARS.
This research is part of Integrated Farming Systems, an ARS
National Program (#207) described on the World Wide Web at
Caesar-TonThat and Robert T.
Lartey are with the USDA-ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research
Laboratory, 1500 N. Central Ave., Sidney, MT 59270; phone (406) 433-9415
[Caesar-TonThat], (406) 433-9490 [Lartey], fax (406) 433-5038.
"Enzyme May Protect Sugar Beets From Leaf Spot Disease" was
published in the May
2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.