Epidemics of oomycete and fungal crop pathogens decimate human populations. Globally, these pathogens reduce annual yields of staple crops by enough to feed 600 million people. Using fungicides to mitigate damage is limited by development of resistance. To combat these diseases, we will use synthetic biology approaches to develop the soil-dwelling, human-safe amoeba Dictyostelium into a biological control agent. These cells are professional phagocytes but cannot digest the pathogen cell walls after engulfment. We will engineer Dictyostelium to produce enzymes that break down cell wall polymers, destroying the phagocytosed pathogen, and providing a new potential weapon against these devastating diseases.
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