Scientists use genomic tests to protect Victoria's $2.3b hort industry

Victoria’s ability to protect its $2.3 billion horticulture industry against devastating bacterial plant diseases is now even more robust thanks to Agriculture Victoria’s world-leading bioscience capabilities.

Since 2010, a team of research scientists at AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience, in Bundoora have been using a genomic approach to develop diagnostic tools to accurately and rapidly detect bacteria that cause plant diseases.

Agriculture Victoria Microbiology Research Leader Dr Brendan Rodoni said the project had used the power of next generation sequencing at AgriBio to sequence entire genomes of important bacterial species and identify target regions of the genome for further diagnostic development.

“We have worked on the four major bacterial plant disease threats to Australian agriculture, including fire blight of apples and pears, Zebra chip in potatoes, citrus canker and kiwi fruit blight,” Dr Rodoni said.

“This approach has now allowed us to identify regions of the genome for each of these bacteria species that are only present in that target species.”

“This information is used develop more effective diagnostic tools that detect only the target species, reducing the risk of false positive and false negative test results.” Result from this project have now been adopted at a national level and are used in plant diagnostic labs such as Crop Health Services and other diagnostic laboratories in Australia in the event of an outbreak of any of the four exotic bacterial pathogens.

Dr Rodoni said accurate diagnostic tests are absolutely critical to protecting agricultural production and export market access.

“Imagine if we had no way to conclusively detect a bacterium that causes disease in an export crop worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A false negative test result could allow the disease to spread, wiping out entire crops, while a false positive test result could unnecessarily close down export markets,” he said.

“For many years, that’s been the scenario for a number of serious agricultural diseases caused by bacteria, such as fire blight, which has devastated apple and pear orchards in other countries and has no single effective treatment.” Agriculture Victoria Research tests more than 17,000 suspected samples each year to protect Victorian plant industries against emerging diseases and facilitate domestic and international trade.

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