BRIGIT Vector-Borne Disease of Plants

BRIGIT builds a collaborative capability to understand and prevent introduction of vector-borne plant pathogens to the UK and the challenges they pose to the UK flora

The BRIGIT project builds the UK’s capability to prevent establishment of vector-borne plant pathogens and to increase our preparedness to respond should they be introduced.

Xylella fastidiosa has been described by the European Commission as “one of the most dangerous plant bacteria worldwide, causing a variety of diseases, with huge economic impact for agriculture, public gardens and the environment.”

Xylella is not present in the UK and for many years the bacterium was restricted to the Americas where it caused serious disease outbreaks in crops such as citrus, coffee, grapevine and peach. However in 2013, Xylella was identified in diseased olive trees in the south of Italy. Since then, the disease has killed millions of trees and the area affected has expanded, despite efforts to contain the outbreak. The bacterium has also been identified to be causing disease outbreaks in ornamental and native species, such as lavender, oleander and rosemary, in France and Spain.

Xylella has been reported to infect a very wide range of host plants from herbaceous perennials to trees, including ornamental and crop plants, and native flora. Infected plants may have scorched or wilted leaves, and may eventually die. There is currently no cure for the disease.

The bacterium is transmitted (vectored) by insects such as leafhoppers and froghoppers/spittlebugs that feed on the xylem, the plant tissue that transports water from roots to leaves in plants. These insect vectors are common in the UK and if Xylella-infected plants were imported, there is potential for the bacterium to establish and spread across the country, with consequences for horticulture, forestry, domestic gardens, woodlands and native ecosystems, with economic, environmental and social impacts.

Despite this threat, very little is known about how the bacterium might spread in northern Europe as most research on Xylella and its insect vectors has been focussed in warmer climates such as the Mediterranean and South America. BRIGIT will improve surveillance for Xylella and develop new methods to detect the bacterium. The project will develop our understanding of the factors that contribute to the likelihood of Xylella being introduced and spread in the UK. The project will interact with the public, industry and policymakers to ensure that the UK is ready to respond to the threat posed by Xylella.

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