BRIGIT project

An overview of research areas and objectives of the BRIGIT project

The BRIGIT project involves scientists across the spectrum of entomology, plant pathology, ecology, epidemiology, genomics, molecular biology and social science.

It consists of a consortium spanning twelve organisations; Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Fera Science Ltd., Forest Research, John Innes Centre, National Museum Wales, Royal Horticultural Society, Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, and the Universities of East Anglia, St Andrews, Salford, Stirling and Sussex.

The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Strategic Priorities Fund, by a grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council with support from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish Government.

BRIGIT will build UK capability to reduce the chance of Xylella being introduced and becoming established in the UK. The consortium will connect and build collaborative relationships with researchers in other countries, for example with scientists in the EU-funded projects POnTE, XF-ACTORS and CURE-XF which are working to raise awareness of Xylella fastidiosa, minimise the risk of its introduction, and improve early detection and control.

BRIGIT will address knowledge gaps required to reduce risk of Xylella introduction, to respond to interceptions and outbreaks, and to mitigate the impact of the disease were it to become established. To do this the project will undertake high quality science to provide the information required by industry, policymakers, academics and the public.

The project has four areas of activity:

Citizen science, outreach and knowledge exchange

The project will engage with the public to raise awareness of Xylella and to encourage people to submit reports of potentially infected plants and insect vectors. Tools and training to identify susceptible plants, symptoms of Xylella and potential vectors of the bacterium will be developed. Open access databases on insect vector distribution, taxonomy and genome sequences will be made available online.

Work package leader: Ana Perez-Sierra (Forest Research) is Head of the Tree Health Diagnostic and Advisory Service and has more than 20 years of experience in plant pathology in agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

Enhancing diagnostic capabilities

This research aims to improve our ability to detection of Xylella in plants and insect vectors by improving sampling techniques and the reliability, sensitivity and specificity of the tests. The work will improve our understanding of the speed with which plants become infected and how symptoms develop. New techniques will be explored to characterise Xylella and trace the source of infection if it is detected.

Work package leader: John Elphinstone (Fera Science Ltd) is a senior research project manager with more than 30 years of experience in assessing risk, diagnosis, epidemiology and control of plant pathogenic bacteria of UK quarantine importance.

Investigating insect vector biology

This will generate a better understanding of the biology of the xylem-feeding insect species that may vector Xylella in the UK. The geographical distribution and abundance of the likely insect vector species will be recorded. The genetic population structures of these species will be captured to identify insect migration routes between habitats and across the UK. The research will focus on Philaenus spumarius since it is extremely common in the UK and known to be a vector in continental Europe.

Work package leader: Saskia Hogenhout(John Innes Centre) is a Group Leader in the Department of Crop Genetics and leads the ‘Plant Health’ Theme 3 of the Institute Strategic Programme. She has 22 years of experience in investigations of insect-vectored plant pathogens and has overall responsibility for managing the John Innes Centre’s quarantine insectary.

Epidemiology modelling

This work will generate models for local and large-scale dispersal of Xylella via insect vectors and plant trade.

The research will incorporate a social science approach to understand supply chains and human behaviours that could contribute to movement of the disease or be utilised for early detection and control. The models will determine the points in the trade network where Xylella is most likely to enter the UK, the locations in which it is most likely to establish and how it is likely to spread. The research will improve our understanding of the effectiveness of biosecurity measures and inform surveillance and control strategies.

Work package leader: Steven White (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) is a researcher with 15 years research experience in mathematical and simulation modelling in population ecology, specialising in species spread, epidemiology and population dynamics.

The title of the project is inspired by Brigit, a Celtic goddess, from which the name “Britain” is also derived. The concept of bridging also emphasises the project’s goal to form connections between (1) the three diverse organisms (plants, insects and bacterium), (2) ten UK research organisations, (3) three research councils, (4) scientists, stakeholders and the public, and (5) the UK and Europe.