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University patents organic solution to grape disease

Chemistry researchers at Surrey have developed and patented a plant-based method for combatting an important grape vine pathogen

Experimental vineyard at FiBL

The new product, Larixyne, is derived from larch bark, and has proved successful in controlling downy mildew of grapevine in large-scale tests across southern Europe. The solution has been developed by researchers in Surrey’s Department of Chemistry led by Head of Department and Professor of Organic Chemistry Dulcie Mulholland, in collaboration with partners in Finland, Russia, Germany and Switzerland. Research Associate Dr Moses Langat, and PhD students Dorota Nawrot and Emily James, made up the team at Surrey.

Grape downy mildew is a major problem for wine producers since it is capable of destroying entire crops, and the only solution currently available is copper-based. Since copper has a negative impact on human health and the environment, its use in wine production is already limited by EU legislation and it may be banned in the future. The use of copper is a particular problem in the organic wine market where consumers pay a premium, but vines are still treated with copper products as there is no alternative organic treatment. The development of a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way of controlling grape downy mildew could therefore have extremely positive implications for the wine industry.

The patenting of Larixyne® is the culmination of two European Commission FP7 projects by Surrey and a consortium of academic and business partners including Switzerland’s Research Institute for Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and German biomaterials company Trifolio-M. The group began to investigate the active compounds within the bark of northern forestry species under the EU-funded Forestspecs project in 2008. Having screened 24 extracts from eight plant species against a number of different medical and plant pathogens, they decided to focus on the bark of Larix decidua (European larch) and began small field trials. A second project, ProLarix, has focused on commercialising the product.

Professor Mulholland says, “Having demonstrated that it works almost as well as copper in field trials, the product has been patented and is going through the registration process, which includes testing its toxicology. We have also successfully developed an extraction method that meets the criteria of organic farming. We are now in licencing discussions with a German company.

“If this product is successful, wine producers will no longer need to use copper, and will be able to produce wine and table grapes that are genuinely organic. This would be good news for consumers, producers and the environment.”

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