Considerations for using bacteriophages for plant disease control.
The use of bacteriophages as an effective phage therapy strategy faces significant challenges for controlling plant diseases in the phyllosphere. A number of factors must be taken into account when considering phage therapy for bacterial plant pathogens. Given that effective mitigation requires high populations of phage be present in close proximity to the pathogen at critical times in the disease cycle, the single biggest impediment that affects the efficacy of bacteriophages is their inability to persist on plant surfaces over time due to environmental factors. Inactivation by UV light is the biggest factor reducing bacteriophage persistence on plant surfaces. Therefore, designing strategies that minimize this effect are critical. For instance, application timing can be altered: instead of morning or afternoon application, phages can be applied late in the day to minimize the adverse effects of UV and extend the time high populations of phage persist on leaf surfaces. Protective formulations have been identified which prolong phage viability on the leaf surface; however, UV inactivation continues to be the major limiting factor in developing more effective bacteriophage treatments for bacterial plant pathogens. Other strategies, which have been developed to potentially increase persistence of phages on leaf surfaces, rely on establishing non-pathogenic or attenuated bacterial strains in the phyllosphere that are sensitive to the phage(s) specific to the target bacterium. We have also learned that selecting the correct phages for disease control is critical. This requires careful monitoring of bacterial strains in the field to minimize development of bacterial strains with resistance to the deployed bacteriophages. We also have data that indicate that selecting the phages based on in vivo assays may also be important when developing use for field application. Although bacteriophages have potential in biological control for plant disease control, there are major obstacles, which must be considered.