Fungi grow far less on the (meth)acrylate polymers than on control surfaces. Image: University of Nottingham.
Fungi grow far less on the (meth)acrylate polymers than on control surfaces. Image: University of Nottingham.

Scientists at the University of Nottingham in the UK have developed a new way to control harmful fungi, without the need to use chemical bioactives like fungicides or antifungals.

Fungi are responsible for various serious societal and economic problems. As well as causing fatal diseases in humans, fungi devastate food crops and spoil valuable products and materials. This has led to an antifungals/fungicide industry worth around $30bn globally. But there are tight regulations around the use of fungicides and antifungals, and fungi are also developing resistance to these agents.

In a paper in Science Advances, experts from the University of Nottingham's schools of life sciences, pharmacy and engineering report their development of an innovative solution to tackle fungi. This involves using a coating of (meth)acrylate polymers to passively block fungal attachment to surfaces, and so negate the need to use potentially harmful anti-fungals or other bioactive chemicals.

In previous work, the team found different combinations of fungicides that worked against fungi, and also produced new understanding of preservative action against spoilage fungi. Although these advances meant less use of certain fungicides and chemicals, frequent tightening of regulations around usage are restricting the take up of technologies that still rely on bioactive agents, while spread of resistance worsens the problem. As a consequence, potential bioactive-free technologies for combating fungi are highly attractive to industry.

In this latest study, the scientists developed an alternative fungal control strategy that doesn't have the 'killing affect' of fungicides, based on polymers that resist the attachment of different kinds of fungi, including pathogens. To do this, they conducted high-throughput screening of hundreds of (meth)acrylate polymers, identifying several that reduce attachment of the human pathogen Candida albicans, the crop pathogen Botrytis cinerea, and other fungi.

Specific chemical features of the polymers were associated with weak fungal attachment. The materials were also non-toxic, supporting their passive utility.

The team developed a formulation of the polymers for inkjet-based 3D printing, finding that printed voice-prosthesis components showed up to 100% reduction in C. albicans biofilm versus commercial materials. They also found that spray-coated leaf surfaces resisted fungal infection, with no plant toxicity. A similar approach against bacterial pathogens is now being developed for a catheter coating to prevent infections in patients.

"This is the first high-throughput study of polymer chemistries resisting fungal attachment," said Simon Avery from the School of Life Sciences, who is lead investigator on the study. "Our engagement to date with industry has highlighted a clear need for a new approach to control fungi and the major socioeconomic problems that they cause, as the value of existing strategies using bioactives (antifungals, fungicides) is eroded by growing resistance and regulations.

"This passive, anti-attachment technology that we have been developing addresses this need. We have been able to show that different polymers are effective in resisting diverse fungi that have broad socio-economic impacts."

This story is adapted from material from the University of Nottingham, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.