Lignin-Derived Aldehydes as Antifungal Agents

Jeff Piotrowski, Steven Karlen, Mehdi Kabbage, Ashish Ranjan

Fungal pathogens represent one of the greatest economic threats to sustainable crop production. They also present significant health risks to humans and animals. In North America, the fungal pathogen landscape is changing as a warming climate brings novel pathogens from Central and South America. As these pathogens are rapidly evolving resistance, new antifungal compounds for treating crops, humans and animals are in increasing demand. Today, the majority of fungicides are synthetic or metal-containing, and therefore not compliant with USDA organic agriculture laws. The rise in pesticide-resistant strains and the risk to human health is driving the search for safe and effective alternatives.

The Invention

UW–Madison researchers have identified a set of compounds within the lignin biosynthesis pathway that exhibit pronounced antifungal activity against both plant and animal pathogens. The compounds are: p-hydroxycoumaryl aldehyde, coniferyl aldehyde and sinapyl aldehyde. They show inhibition of the plant pathogens Sclerotinia sclerotiorum (‘white mold’), Alternaria solani (early blight), Alternaria alternata (leaf spot, etc.) as well as the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the human pathogen Candida albicans, which is responsible for a host of infections prevalent in immunocompromised patients. Additionally, the compounds show strong inhibition of the oomycete pathogen Phytophthora, displaying complete inhibition of growth at 250 µg/mL.

Key Benefits
  • Described activity against economically significant pathogens
  • Potentially compliant with organic agriculture standards
  • Effective in unmodified forms; may be rapidly developed for market
  • New class of antifungal agents for major plant and animals pathogens
Stage of Development

Chemical genomics profiling suggests the compounds affect central cytoskeleton dependent processes. Further testing may reveal activity against a broader set of pathogens.

Technology Contact

For current licensing status, please contact Mark Staudt at or (608) 265-3084.

Field-to-product integration