The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Right Honourable Lord Henley, has announced funding for a major bacterial plant diseases research programme supported by UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund.
The first phase of this investment initiates a UK-wide consortium to prepare for the possible introduction and spread of the devastating plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa into the UK.
BRIGIT, a consortium co-ordinated by the John Innes Centre, will work to enhance UK surveillance and response to Xylella fastidiosa. BRIGIT brings together ten leading UK research organisations, in a £4.85m programme aiming to improve methods of diagnosis and detection of Xylella, to identify factors that could lead to its spread, and to prepare to minimise the risk of the pathogen to the UK.
The bacterial plant diseases programme is a £17.7m collaboration between UK Research and Innovation Councils, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Scottish Government who are providing £1.1m of additional funding.
Professor Nicola Spence, Chief Plant Health Officer and Deputy Director for plant and bee health at Defra said: “I am delighted that UKRI, together with co-funders Defra and the Scottish Government, has agreed to fund this crucial research which will help us to better control bacterial plant diseases in the future. Protecting the UK’s plants from pests and diseases remains one of my Department’s highest priorities, and we need robust science to underpin our actions to combat these threats.
Xylella fastidiosa is one such bacterial disease and will form the focus of the first phase of the research programme. The knowledge gained through this programme should assist us in further optimising our ongoing surveillance and ensure that our contingency plans are underpinned by the most up-to-date evidence available.”
Xylella has been described by the European Commission as “one of the most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide.” This insect-transmitted bacterial plant pathogen infects 500 species including crops, ornamental plants, and trees. In Italy alone, over one million olive trees are dying from Xylella in a disease called Olive Quick Decline Syndrome. So far, Xylella has not been reported in the UK.
Professor Saskia Hogenhout, project leader at the John Innes Centre and principal investigator of BRIGIT, says: “Despite the impact of this disease, we know very little about how the bacteria might spread in Northern Europe; the majority of research on Xylella and its insect vectors has been done in warmer southern climates. We believe this consortium is much-needed, bringing a joined-up approach to tackle a potentially devastating plant disease.”