BRIGIT research areas

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

The long-term objective of the project is to improve our understanding of how plants respond to infection with insect-transmitted plant pathogens and how symptoms develop. We will improve diagnostics of these bacteria, and build a collaborative capability to understand the challenges they pose to the UK flora and prevent introduction of the vector-borne pathogens into the UK.

The immediate goal of BRIGIT is to 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 POnTEXF-ACTORS and CURE-XF, who are working on raising awareness of Xylella fastidiosa, minimising the risk of its introduction, and improving early detection and control.

By undertaking high-quality scientific research, 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. Consortium members will engage with industry, policymakers, academics and the public to make sure information provided via BRIGIT about the insect-vectored pathogens is clear and readily available.

The project has four areas of activity:

 1- Citizen science, outreach and knowledge exchange

BRIGIT will build on established citizen science and outreach activities to improve awareness of Xylella, its potential impacts and how it spreads. We will work with established volunteer networks and recording schemes as well as engage with citizens in the wider community. To be able to respond to the threat of Xylella we need to link the public, and researchers and enthusiasts from different disciplines to record insect and plant distributions across the country. There are established volunteer networks reporting such information and BRIGIT aims to work with these groups. Public events and training will be created through BRIGIT to bring together volunteers and share information on Xylella. These events will be announced here and via #brigitxylella.

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.

2 – Enhancing Xylella 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: Joana Vicente (Fera Science Ltd) is a senior research project manager and has a degree in Agronomic Engineering and more than 15 years of experience in plant pathology and plant science research.

3 – 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 Entomology Facility.

4 – 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.