Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type





Plant and Soil Science

First Advisor

Dr. George J. Wagner


Tobacco phylloplanins (T-phylloplanin) are a group of closely-related glycoproteins that are formed and disposed at the interface between the plant aerial surface (the phylloplane) and the atmosphere. They are synthesized in short procumbent trichomes and are secreted to aerial surfaces where they are thought to serve the plant as a first line of defense against fungal pathogens. Here it is shown using in vitro and in planta assays that tobacco and sunflower phylloplanins have broad-spectrum antifungal activities against spores - and also hyphae for two species - of several true fungi. Field tests show that T-phylloplanin reduces diseases caused by three important fungal pathogens of turf grasses.

Tobacco phylloplanins are distinct proteins but they have properties in common with small, membrane-pore-forming, antimicrobial peptides formed by other organisms. To directly determine if T-phylloplanin has pore-forming activity we monitored conductivity change and specific ion leakage from spores and hyphae in suspension. Results indicate that phylloplanin causes fungal membrane disruption that leads to ion depletion and cell death.

Having observed broad efficacy of T-phylloplanin against spores and/or hyphae of several true fungi, but no activity towards hyphae of the oomycetes, Pythium and Peronospora parasitica, we tested for possible effects on zoospores of the latter two pathogens. T-phylloplanin was shown to be effective against their zoospores, extending the efficacy of T-phylloplanin to include water molds. In the course of these experiments we also tested the effects of the diterpene cis-abienol that is secreted from tall trichomes of tobaccos and found this compound impacted zoospores and could prevent black shank disease caused by P. parasitica when applied to soil-grown tobaccos as a root drench.

Thus, results of these studies with phylloplanins and cis-abienol, two different tobacco surface accumulated compounds are consistent with their serving the plant as first line of defense systems against a wide array of invading fungal pathogens. Phylloplanins and cis-abienol may be useful for controlling fungal diseases in tobacco float beds. The efficacy shown here for T-phylloplanin control of fungal pathogens of turf grasses in the field suggests that this natural product may find use in IPM of turf and other crops.