Looking to cure rice blast with plant and microbe-sourced compounds

Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world’s population.  Taking cues from Chinese herbal medicines, Dr. Yi-Zhen Deng is researching the potential of a flavonoid from a Chinese herb in combating rice-blast disease, the most common and costly rice disease. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research 

I am interested in looking for bioactive compounds (natural products) against the rice-blast disease from plants and microbes. We investigate the acting mechanisms of such antifungal/anti-blast compounds by identifying their molecular targets. For example, we found a flavonoid from Chinese herb that could effectively suppress leaf blast lesion formation in pot experiments. We found that this flavonoid may target programmed cell death machinery of the blast fungus to block its pathogenic development. Our team is conducting field trials to test the effects of this flavonoid before developing it as a new fungicide for application in agronomic practice.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist? 

To develop new types of effective and environment-friendly fungicide against the blast disease, we turn to Chinese herbal medicines and/or environment microbes. One of the reasons we choose these plant and microbe-sourced compounds is that they may be safe to humans. Many of these compounds are either already consumed by humans or exist in rice planting environments.

To develop new types of effective and environment-friendly fungicide against the blast disease, we turn to Chinese herbal medicines and/or environment microbes.

After we prove they are effective in controlling the rice blast disease and safe for environments and humans alike, we would optimize them based on our investigation into their acting mechanisms and the identification of their acting targets within the fungal cells. Our ultimate goal is to provide useful and safe products for protecting crop production in China and worldwide. 

Our ultimate goal is to provide useful and safe products for protecting crop production in China and worldwide. 

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Why did you choose this area of research? 

Rice is consumed by more than 60% of Chinese population as staple food. I studied fungal pathogenesis and molecular microbe-plant interaction during my PhD studentship and post-doctoral period. After gaining insights into the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the growth, differentiation and pathogenicity of the rice blast fungus, I would like to further apply such knowledge to the practice of rice blast disease control. 

How could your Grants4Ag project someday impact #healthforall #hungerfornone? 

Rice blast is the most frequently occuring and costly rice disease worldwide, posing a great threat to global food security. Application of chemical fungicides and breeding of resistant rice varieties are two commonly used disease control strategies. However, limitations include emerging drug resistance, environment pollution, long breeding cycles and the decline of blast resistance due to the quickly evolving fungal strains with higher virulence. Development of effective and environmentally friendly fungicides, sourced from Chinese herbal medicines or environment microbes, would provide an alternative for improving rice production and therefore global food security.