Bad date?

Date palm with Bayoud disease,
Image from J. Louvet, Bugwood.org

A bad date usually involves awkward conversation or an unfortunate incident with a hot cup of coffee, but for Algerian and Moroccan farmers there is a much fruitier issue at hand. Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) have long-suffered the effects of the Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. albedinis fungus, which causes Bayoud (or Bayoudh) disease, but a new natural fungicide could now provide the answer.

In a recent press conference scientists announced that they have now managed to isolate extracts from four other plant species that inhibit fungal growth. The plants used grow in the Algerian Sahara desert and are naturally resistant to the disease. While the idea of using natural plant defences is not new in itself (for examples see BPIA), this is the first time researchers have managed to find a match against F. oxysporum f.sp. albedinis. The application of these extracts is now being put to the test in field trials in Algeria.

In the last century an estimated 15 million Moroccan and Algerian date palm trees have been lost to the disease, according to the FAO. As the only known methods of preventing the spread of Bayoud disease are isolation and reduced irrigation, growers in affected regions have been limited to using varieties more resistant to the disease – often not the same strains that produce the highest yields or the best quality produce. Unaffected, the Arab states’ date palms have an estimated annual production value of over US$1 billion, so picking up the bill after fungal outbreaks has proved a lot more costly than dinner and a bottle of merlot.

Although it is thought that the production of these extracts as commercial products is some time away, researchers are hopeful that it could provide a cost effective solution to the problem. Scientists might finally have cracked the dating code.

Key Source: Bougaada, T., Scientists find desert cure for date disease, 28 Dec 2011

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