Researchers tested the use of micro algae and cyanobacteria bio stimulants to control nematodes.Credit: Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development

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Researchers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal(UKZN) are exploring the potential of algae and cyanobacteria-based biostimulants as a sustainable alternative to traditional chemical methods in controlling plant root pathogens.

Published in Phytoparasitica, the study revealed potential for organisms and their extracts in suppression and control of plant pest nematodes.

Plant diseases caused by bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and viruses pose a significant threat to the livelihoods and food security of small-scale farmers and rural communities globally.

Nematodes, tiny worms that attack the roots of more than 3000 plant species and cause up to 60% of crop losses in South Africa, are one of the pathogens that could be managed by micro algae and cyanobacteria bio stimulants. For a long time, farmers used soil fumigants (chemicals) to control these diseases in agriculture but these chemicals are hazardous, and they don't always work well against these pests.

Wendy Stirk, a research associate at UKZN’s Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development, says “the journey towards widespread adoption faces challenges. "One of the big barriers is the cost of producing microalgae in large volumes, which needs to be cheaper than synthetic chemicals."

The study listed solutions such as nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and more research to better understand the mechanisms of these substances. The researchers identified more tests to make them practical for large-scale crop production.