BRIGIT Vector-Borne Disease of Plants

BRIGIT builds a collaborative capability to understand and prevent introduction of arthropod-borne plant pathogens to the UK and the challenges it poses to the UK flora.

Xylella fastidiosa 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.

Infected plants can show leaf scorching and loss of leaves or fruit. Although these symptoms may not appear at first, infected plants will eventually die and currently there is no known cure for the disease.

Xylella is a bacterial pathogen, transmitted by insects that feed on the xylem, a plant tissue that transports water from roots to leaves in plants. These bugs include sharpshooters in the Americas and spittlebugs/froghoppers in Europe, including the UK. If Xylella-infected plants or carrier insects enter the UK, there is potential for the disease to spread to many plants through native insects or via transport of plants across the UK by humans, with consequences for commercial and amenity horticulture, forestry, crop production, woodlands and wider biodiversity, with economic, environmental and social impacts.

Despite this threat, very little is known about how the bacteria might spread in Northern European climates as most research on Xylella and its insect vectors has been based in warmer southern climates. Plants are imported into the UK every day and greater knowledge is required to prevent the further Xylella spread.

BRIGIT will develop new methods to detect the bacterium and develop understanding of factors that could contribute to Xylella entry and dispersal in the UK. The project interacts with stakeholders and policymakers to reduce the impacts of Xylella in the UK and mitigate the impacts of the pathogen.

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