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Scientists at the Israel Institute of Technology — the Technion — have received a prestigious $1.5 million research grant to develop clean anti-fungal technology inspired by the natural properties of the lotus plant.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), fungal diseases are responsible for destroying a third of all food crops annually, causing immense economical loss and adding to global poverty.


For example, powdery mildew is a serious fungal disease, which is easily noticeable by patches of white powder found on leaves and attacks a wide range of plants.

To treat these diseases, farmers are forced to use synthetic fungicides which are effective, but their extensive overuse and misuse have devastating impacts. Now, Professor Boaz Pokroy and Professor Ester Segal at the Technion have proposed an environmentally friendly alternative for the exploration of which they received the EIC Pathfinder grant.

Some plants, like lotus and broccoli, naturally exhibit anti-adhesive wax crystals on their leaf surfaces that prevent pathogens from attaching to the plant, as the wax renders the plant inaccessible.

Inspired by the crystals of the lotus and the broccoli, Prof. Pokroy from the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering and Prof. Segal from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering created SafeWax, a non-toxic biodegradable formulation made from renewable materials, that can be sprayed on any plant and has the same effect as natural plants’ wax.

SafeWax can also be tuned to provide UV radiation filtering, prevent sun damage, as well as facilitate water collection from dew condensation, mitigating the inevitable effects of climate change.

Between the effects of climate change, global population growth, and the already existing global food insecurity, the importance of protecting food crops from disease cannot be understated.

Profs. Pokroy and Segal, working in collaboration with colleagues from the Università di Bologna, the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin and BASF SE, intend to demonstrate SafeWax’s capabilities on the grapevine – a crop of high importance to Europe’s economy, environment, and culture which is highly susceptible to fungal diseases and is, for that reason, the most-frequently treated crop.

The European Union is planning to prohibit the use of many fungicides due to their toxicity, leaving the grapevine and other crops defenseless unless an effective alternative is found. Europe is therefore eager for the Technion team’s experiments to succeed.


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.