A problem with many pesticides is that rain washes them off plants and into the soil and groundwater. Now, researchers have devised a sticky approach to protecting plants, one that could be applied less frequently than chemical pesticides and might be less toxic. They have designed a molecule with two separate chains of amino acids, called peptides. One peptide embeds itself in the waxy surface of a leaf, holding tight in the rain, and the other juts out like a spear to attack microbial pests.
In a proof of concept, published [in April] in Green Chemistry, lab tests showed the molecules lessened symptoms of soybean rust, a dreaded fungus that is one of the world’s worst agricultural diseases. The peptides will face many challenges before they can reach the market as a commercial product. But plant biologists say they could be a flexible new way to help farmers deal with pathogens that evolve resistance to existing pesticides.
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