Food insecurity is a major global issue, with millions facing hunger each year. One major contributing factor is crop loss, a significant fraction of which is due to plant pathogens. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, around $220 billion USD of crops are lost due to plant diseases and pests annually, including bacterial plant pathogens.
One of the main ways farmers currently defend crops against bacterial pathogens is pesticides, which can be detrimental to the environment and human health. Pesticides can damage farmland and the local ecosystem, preventing sustainable patterns of production and consumption.
Biocontrols are a sustainable alternative to conventional crop protection methods. Bacterial biocontrol agents inhibit or kill a target pathogens through a wide variety of natural mechanisms (Bonaterra et al., 2022). These agents work in harmony with nature to prevent the devastating losses that bacterial plant pathogens can cause.
Our project uses synthetic biology to improve upon biocontrols through the creation of a modular microcin secretion system. We aim to engineer natural biocontrols to kill off target pathogenic bacteria through the secretion of microcins, providing a sustainable approach to crop protection.
Microcins are a class of novel antimicrobial peptides secreted by many bacteria. Microcins are a potential alternative because they are highly specific and difficult to acquire resistance to. Generally, microcins cause disruptions in the cell membrane through interactions with inner membrane receptors, resulting in destruction of the cell (Parker & Davies, 2022).
Our modular microcin secretion system permits the easy swapping of microcins, allowing farmers to implement it for diverse bacterial pathogens and environments. Overall, our project provides farmers with a sustainable, effective method of protecting crops and mitigating global food loss.


Bonaterra A, Badosa E, Daranas N, Francés J, Roselló G, Montesinos E. 2022. Bacteria as biological control agents of plant diseases. Microorganisms. 10.3390/microorganisms10091759.

FAO. 2017. The future of food and agriculture – Trends and challenges. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Parker, J. K., & Davies, B. W. (2022) Microcins reveal natural mechanisms of bacterial manipulation to inform therapeutic development. Microbiology, 168(4), 001175.