Protecting our crops against number one plant threat

Victorian scientists are leading two vital projects intended to defend Australian crops from one of the world’s most harmful plant diseases.

Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterium transmitted by common sap-sucking insects such as leafhoppers, spittlebugs and sharpshooters and is considered the number one plant biosecurity threat to Australia and New Zealand.

This important research, which is being led by Agriculture Victoria, is playing a critical role in helping to safeguard Australian agriculture from exotic biosecurity threats.

Agriculture Victoria Senior Research Scientist Dr Rachel Mann’s is working on a national plan for methods of detection and surveillance of the Xylella fastidiosa pathogen through the development of innovative diagnostic tools, while Horsham-based colleague Dr Piotr Trebicki is examining how the disease would manifest in the Australian environment.

‘The impact of Xylella fastidiosa overseas has been catastrophic, infecting more than 200 million citrus trees in Brazil, destroying one million olive trees in Italy and devastating the Californian grape sector – causing annual losses in excess of US$100 million,’ Dr Mann said.

‘Together with Hort Innovation under the Hort Frontiers strategic co-investment, we are working on a national plan for methods of detection and surveillance of Xylella fastidiosa through the development of innovative diagnostic tools.’

This research, which is also supported by New South Wales, Western Australian and Queensland state-based primary industries and the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand, will ensure that the major diagnostic labs in Australia and New Zealand that provide diagnostic capability to state and national biosecurity agencies and industry are prepared should the pathogen present here.

Dr Trebicki’s research, which is being conducted in collaboration with Wine Australia, Hort Innovation and the NSW Department of Primary Industries, will add to Australia’s biosecurity arsenal, with increased knowledge of the disease within an Australian context.

This project, which is being supported by international research partners in New Zealand, Spain and America, seeks to understand the biology and population dynamics of insects which may transmit Xylella fastidiosa in at-risk crops such as grape, citrus, cherry and olive plantations and determine the critical times of the year when disease spread may be most rapid.

These proactive research projects will ensure Australia is on the front foot, in its defence against Xylella fastidiosa.

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