Palo Negro in vitro culture (Leptocarpha rivularis DC)

Palo Negro: Mapuche bush seeks to fight fungus in Chilean plantations

Dr. Marcela Gatica-Andrades

Report: Dr. Marcela Gatica-Andrades

9, April 2018

Chile is heavily reliant on its agriculture, thus prevention of plagues and infections is matter of priority in research and development. In this context we talked to Dr. Julia Rubio-Astudillo who has just started a project last March at Universidad Autónoma de Chile (UA) that aims to study the application of natural extracts on plantations to combat phytopathogen fungus infections.

Let´s start from the beginning, How this young scientist got interested and got to work at these topics? Julia got all her academic formation at Universidad de Chile, where she graduated from Bachelor in Science (Biology) to then getting a Master degree and starting a strong scientific training through the Doctoral Program in Agricultural, Forestry and Livestock & Veterinary Science. Julia has always been interested on plants, plant biology and molecular biology. This is why she has been working for some time now with Dr Evelyn Silva-Moreno, Principal Investigator at Applied Chemical Science Institute (ICQA) at UA. One of Dr. Silva research fields focuses on the use of natural extracts to combat Botrytis fungus, which represents a main issue for Chilean agriculture.


Dr. Julia Rubio-Astudillo

According to Julia, this kind of research is highly relevant to the country since this fungi is able to survive at very low temperatures (4 Celsius degrees), thus it can easily infect and travel along with Chilean products exported to countries like China and the US. In addition, the use of pesticides is still quite high in Chile, so it is priority to look for new ways to decrease the amount of agrochemicals present on food we consume.

[SPANISH] “Why Botrytis? Because Botrytis is actually a fungi that represents an issue for Chile since it resists until 4 or less Celsius degrees. Thus, if a small Botrytis spore travells along with berries or vines exported to China or the US, when arrives all fruit will be contaminated, so it is all lost”

Joint work among Dr. SilvaDr. Héctor Carrasco and Dr. Andrés Olea, also Principal Investigators at ICQA, has permitted to look for new ways to combat Botrytis fungus by using compounds coming from extracts from the Canelo tree cortex. This is a native Chilean specie, which is quite relevant for indigenous Chilean communities since it is the sacred tree for the Mapuche community. Why Canelo? Julia commented that the particular interest on this tree comes from the observation that it is quite resistant to cold climate conditions, so it must have some properties that allow it to survive.  

[SPANISH]  “If we can contribute with a product from a natural source that also comes from native plants like Canelo, this is quite interesting”

Similarly, Palo Negro has comparable properties. Palo Negro is a native Chilean bush, which is actually the only one that exists from its group. Similarly to Canelo, Palo Negro is quite important for Mapuche culture and medicine. It has actually shown some anti-carcinogenic properties. However, Julia commented on the fact that today there is no information about which are the properties of this tree that allow it to combat fungal infections.

The project that Julia is commencing aims to study whether Palo Negro also can be a source of compounds to control fungal infections in plantations. Specifically, Julia is interest on analyzing whether is possible to grow Palo Negro cultures at the lab and use them as a source of these compounds, to then avoid chopping it in its natural environment. Julia will develop this project during three years thank to Chilean Government funding (Concurso Postdoctoral, FONDECYT 2018).


Palo Negro in vitro culture (Leptocarpha rivularis DC)

In deep...
Massive in vitro propagation

Julia is doing a massive in vitro propagation of Palo Negro cultures, where she has obtained more than 100 by now. Why is she mainly interested on calluses? All plants naturally generate calluses after suffering any damage, so these are a very good source of compounds involved in processes of protection and healing of plant tissue. There is also a conservational interest since it is not the idea to then chopping the bush at its natural environment. Palo Negro is the common name for Leptocarpha rivularis, bush, which is source of a compound called Leptocarpin for which some anti-carcinogenic properties has been described and will be a main focus of study for Julia. 

Dr. Marcela Gatica-Andrades
Reportage: Dr. Marcela Gatica-Andrades

9, April 2018