As diseases go for apple and pear farmers, few are as devastating as fire blight. The bacteria can savage a wide number of apple and pear trees and there isn’t much it won’t destroy from flowers to fruit, branches and even trunks. Unchecked it cannot only kill the whole tree, but it can require whole blocks of trees to be destroyed. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada states: “There is no cure for fire blight, but the spread of bacteria can be limited by using sound pest management strategies in an integrated management program.”
While it still has no cure, Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre (PARC) researchers are developing a new treatment that is environmentally sound and reduces damage by as much as half. Julie Boulé, a researcher at PARC, working in a team has discovered a one-two punch using a bacterium and a bacteriophage. The bacterium acts as a control agent and a carrier for the bacteriophage. A bacteriophage is a virus that kills bacteria, in this case the fire blight bacteria. As the fire blight bacteria are killed the bacteriophage produces more phages, which go out and attack more of the fire blight bacteria.
Field trials show a 50% reduction in fire blight on tree flowers that were sprayed with a cocktail consisting of the bacterium and bacteriophage. The two are sprayed on as a “biopesticide.” Trials are still underway and this biopesticide is not a stand alone product, but, says PARC in a press release, “They are very effective at reducing the pathogen population in the open blossoms.”