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Werewolf-like Fungus Falls to 'Silver Bullet'

May 16, 2015 04:42 PM EDT
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Popular legend has always portrayed silver as the "purifying metal," capable of fending off ghosts, and - most importantly - a bullet of the stuff can take down a werewolf. Now researchers are making myth into reality, using silver to battle a deadly fungus invasion that otherwise would never die.

As things stand, it has been estimated that phytophthora fungus diseases cost the horticultural industry several billion dollars a year. Likewise, potato crops alone continue to struggle against the same blight that caused the Irish Potato Famine 200 years ago, costing the industry an estimated $6.7 billion (USD).

Contaminating the very soil that these plants reside in, the fungi directly attack the roots and leaves of their victims, starving affected plants to death.

Also, because it is found so deep within the soil, the fungus has proven resistant to many traditional prevention measures like soil draining and fumigation, or even chemical treatment - in short, it's just very hard to kill.

However, legend has long taught us that when you come up against a monster that just won't stay down, you can always try silver.

Plant pathologist G. Shad Ali, of the University of Florida, recently discovered that silver nanoparticles produced with an extract of wormwood - an herb with strong antioxidant properties - can stop several strains of the deadly fungus form spreading.

"The silver nanoparticles are extremely effective in eliminating the fungus in all stages of its life cycle," Ali said in a release. "In addition, it has no adverse effects on plant growth."

The particles themselves measure a mere 5 to 100 nanoparticles in diameter - about one-thousandth the width of a human hair - and are reportedly very inexpensive to make. The particles are then prayed on a plant, protecting its leaves and roots with literally a shield of silver that the fungus will shy away from.

Most importantly, lab-side and field setting revealed that the silver prevents infection in several ways, meaning that it will take a very very long time - if ever - for the fungi to develop a resistance to it.

Interestingly, battling fungal monstrosities isn't the only thing silver is being used for these days. The nanoparticles are also being considered for application in industries like medicine, diagnostics, cosmetics, and even food processing!

A full assessment of the particles and how they battle phytophthora fungus diseases can be found in the journal Phytopathology.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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