Project puts pathogen detection in the palm of your hand

Long waits for diagnostic test results to identify unknown plant diseases could soon be a thing of the past, with research underway to investigate point-of-care tools for production nurseries, that will inform management decisions and assist in future prevention processes at the grower level.

Point-of-care tools, or smart surveillance tools, allow for the testing of the disease to be done in the field, giving growers fast, reliable identification of plant pathogens without the wait time of laboratory testing.

The one-year project A review of diagnostic technologies to benefit the Australian nursery industry (NY16003), a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Nursery Fund, is being driven by Agriculture Victoria Research in partnership with the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (NGIA).

Project lead Fiona Constable, Principal Research Scientist – Microbiology for Agriculture Victoria Research has spent the last six months reviewing current laboratory based and field deployable diagnostic tests and assessing new technologies that could be developed to improve early detection of key pests.

“The aim of this project is to identify point-of-care tools for production nurseries that are user friendly, can be applied and interpreted by personnel with all levels of experience and support efficient and sustainable nursery production,” Fiona said.

“These tools, when used appropriately, will minimise the impact of pests and diseases and enhance the biosecurity of the Australian nursery industry on-farm, at the border and in post entry quarantine.

“Commercialisation is an important aspect we’re considering in our review – through the project we are assessing what tools would have enough grower and nursery industry interest to make it commercially viable.”

In consultation with industry, diagnosticians, biosecurity agencies and research scientists, this project will:

  • assess the biological parameters of the high priority endemic and exotic pathogens (bacteria, fungi, nematodes, viruses and viroids) that threaten nursery production.
  • identify laboratory based and field deployable diagnostic tests that are currently used for their detection
  • identify new point-of-care technologies that could be developed to improve early detection of key pests
  • review the applicability of the smart surveillance tools to the nursery industry
  • identify and evaluate new lab-based technologies (e.g. next generation sequencing) to screen nursery stock entering Australia at the border and during post entry quarantine.

“The project has identified multiple tests which could be adapted for plant pathogens, such as a commercial water quality test for bacteria, and a hand-held device that could diagnose pathogens using DNA testing in the field,” Fiona said.

The project will provide recommendations to the Australian nursery industry for the development, evaluation, validation and adoption of the best available point-of-care tools.

These tools would be used for the detection of current, new and emerging exotic and endemic pathogens of concern to industry at point of care and in the laboratory.

Project code: NY16003