Kauri dieback and how microbes sense the world

When it comes to felling mighty trees, sometimes all it takes is a tiny microbe. But scientists are wondering if they can save the trees, by putting the tiny killer ‘off the scent’.

Alison Ballance talks to Monica Gerth about her research using a combination of biochemistry and mātauranga Māori to try to foil the spread of kauri dieback. Phytophthora is a fungus-like organism known as a water-mould. Its life cycle involves several different stages including  zoospores, which swim through wet soil to infect new trees.

Monica and her team are looking to identify chemical signals from kauri and other native plants that attract, repel or generally disrupt the 'homing' ability of zoospores. Could they, for example, design zoospore repellents that could potentially be applied around kauri trees to deter the spores?