New bio-fungicide for citrus and table grapes in Chile

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New bio-fungicide for citrus and table grapes in Chile

A new bio-fungicide for citrus and table grapes is in the works, announced researchers at Chile's Pontificial Catholic University on Thursday. Since 2019, the post-harvest formula has been in the process of being patented in the Latin American country.

Head of the research team Dr. Denis Fuentealba told that the fungicide is made with a special bio-polymer that is light-activated and comes from eco-friendly, natural materials. Developed in the labs in the university's chemistry department, the innovation was originally part of Fuentealba's doctoral student Luciano Dibona's thesis project.

In conjunction with  Dr. Hector Valdes and Dr. Daniel Schwantes in the agriculture department, the project began in 2019 to solve post-harvest problems in a new, environmentally conscious way.

"As researchers at UC, we're very inspired by the need to contribute to high quality exports and we believe that this fungicide is going to help both the industry and the environment. It's a real contribution to the sector and to academia," Fuentealba explained.

Recognition, the future and competition for natural fungicides

Then, later that year the project gained recognition and traction when it won an award for innovation among young researchers from the Copec Foundation. This award provided more funding for the scientists' work - US$104,000 to be exact.

Speaking to how the team plans on using that funding, Fuentealba explained that "now, in March of 2020, we are beginning a phase of the project that is oriented towards testing semi-pilots of the fungicide in the commercial sector in Chile".

He also detailed that this step comes after the formula was tested in lab contexts on harmful fungi found on table grapes and citrus fruits. Testing involved a certain fungi commonly found on table grapes post-harvest called botritis cinerea and a fungi found on fruits like oranges and mandarins called penicillium digitatum.

Strong results on both fruit categories prompted the researchers to begin the patent process, being confident in the product's strength and potential for market use.

Now, if the newest phase of testing goes well, the formula will be proven useful in industrial, large scale settings and be deemed fit for use.

"We will then continue developing the formula until it reaches a level that will allow it to be competitive in the fungicide market and to where we could eventually release the solution for commercial use," said Fuentealba.

Regarding how the team will make the fungicide competitive among other eco-friendly post-harvest solutions, scientists pointed out that their formula could "replace, or at least decrease the use of, traditional fungicides that are toxic in the agriculture industry".

The team thinks that the demand for such a product is becoming ever more evident as consumers and growers look towards clean solutions post-harvest. Fuentealba said that "consumers want produce that isn't chemically treated and the formula that we offer doesn't leave residue on fruits," adding to the appeal of the product.

In the future, it says that while the formula is focused on treating citrus and table grapes, it could easily be expanded to other fruit categories to aid the Chilean fruit industry in making its international presence known.

Scientists at Chile's university also stressed the importance of connecting academic research in labs across the country and the technical supply chain in the fruit industry. One of the project's goals is just that - to create collaboration between the industry and university innovation.

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