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Green Bioinspired Glycolipids as Multi-Purpose Agrichemicals

Sponsored by United States Department of Agriculture

$649.7K Funding
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Agriculture is facing significant and dynamic challenges that threaten the long-term sustainability of the industry as a result of climate change, a growing global population, and increased demand for agricultural products. Some of these intertwined challenges include: increasing wind- and water-induced soil erosion; degradation of natural resources due to overuse and more frequent extreme weather events; transboundary spread of pests and disease; and water scarcity. Next generation eco-compatible multi-use agrichemicals that support agricultural productivity, sustainability, and resiliency are needed to ensure long-term food security. One such candidate is microbially-produced glycolipid biosurfactants, specifically a class of glycolipids known as rhamnolipids. Rhamnolipids already have proven potential as environmentally compatible biopesticides and dust mitigation agents, but their use has been limited due to difficulty in their commercial production. Recently, the University of Arizona patented the synthetic production of rhamnolipids in a process that uses green chemistry principles. Now it is possible to synthesize not only rhamnolipid but a diverse suite of glycolipids. Importantly, these new glycolipids can be structurally tuned for different applications.The goal of this project is to evaluate a suite of "bioinspired" glycolipids and identify those with potential as dust suppressants and/or those that have biocidal activity against common plant pathogens relevant to agriculture in dryland regions. The project will also examining their ecotoxicity and phytotoxicity to evaluate their suitability for use in sensitive agricultural operations. Dust suppresion will be tested using Arizona agriculutural soils using a controlled wind apparatus. Biocidal activity will be evaulated by treating plant pathogens isolated from Arizona agricultural soils with the glycolipids to monitor efficacy when 1) applied directly to the pathogen, 2) applied to plants infected with the pathogen, and 3) when applied as a treatment in irigation systems. Ecotoxicity will be evaluated using the Microtox assay to establish the acute aquatoic toxicity to prokaryotic microorganisms. Phytotoxity will be evaluated by evaluatingseed germination and plant biomass development responses of Arizona native and agricultural plants treated with glycolipids. Together, these data will reveal structure-function relationships to enable customization of glycolipid structures to meet agricultural needs without harming plants or the environment. These efforts will demonstrate a new class of high-performance multi-use agrichemicals that will promote, improve, and maintain healthy long-term agroecosystems for producers, consumers, and agricultural communities alike.