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Long-lasting defence priming for the protection of fruit against postharvest diseases

Primary supervisor: Dr Estrella Luna-Diez, School of Biosciences

Non-academic partner: Saturn Bioponics

Project Title: Long-lasting defence priming for the protection of fruit against postharvest diseases

Project description:

Rationale. Fruit and vegetables represent a major source of food worldwide. Fruit decay due to postharvest diseases can claim up to 50% of total crop production. Pesticides can control these diseases but their use postharvest is extremely limited due to toxicity. Therefore, it is urgent to develop alternative strategies to control diseases in a safe, environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. Research that exploits the plant’s immune system to confer protection against diseases provides a sophisticated source for future Integrated Disease Management (IDM).

Preliminary results. We have discovered that the resistance of tomato fruit can be improved through priming of plant defence mechanisms. Our experiments have shown that priming seedlings results in long-lasting protection of the fruit and this durable resistance is not achieved when priming is applied to older plants. Considering that DNA methylation drives fruit development and long-lasting priming, these results have driven an investigation on how priming can be imprinted at different developmental stages.

Gaps in current understanding. Our results have focused on the tomato crop, which is propagated mostly from seed, and in one particular priming agent, the chemical β-aminobutyric acid (BABA). However, crops such as strawberries, that are highly affected by postharvest diseases, also use other propagation approaches such as cuttings from mother plants. In addition, new chemical formulations of priming elicitors have been developed in the last decade. Therefore, we require a better understanding of the molecular imprinting capacity and maintenance of in different crops after treatments with different priming elicitors.


  1. Test durability of priming in strawberry and tomato with BABA and other elicitors after application at different developmental stages
  2. Identify DNA methylation markers of long-lasting priming in tomato from existing methylome analysis
  3. Investigate whether those changes in DNA methylation occur in strawberry and tomato upon treatments with BABA and other priming elicitors

Tomato and strawberry crops will be used in the experiment due to their economical relevance and how affected their production is due to postharvest diseases. Moreover, Saturn Bioponics are experts in hydroponic growing, which both crops highly rely on. This project will provide new insights on how elicitor-induced priming can be applied in an environmentally friendly manner to control crop diseases. Due to the translational nature of the project, it is likely that it provides results with potential for commercial exploitation through the identification of markers of long-lasting resistance.

Contact: Dr Estrella Luna-Diez, University of Birmingham