Conference raises Xylella awareness

17 May 2018

Last week KVH attended the Better Border Biosecurity (B3) conference in Wellington. B3 is a joint venture for plant biosecurity science in New Zealand integrating expertise and investment from several Crown Research Institutes, and end users such as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and industry.

In addition to profiling research into new, smarter biosecurity tools such as remote sensors and advanced diagnostics, the conference had an underlying theme of building collaboration to achieve better biosecurity. This includes working alongside Australia more, as they are our closest parallel in the biosecurity sense being an isolated South Pacific nation with similar challenges and pressures, but also present our greatest risk given how near and connected our countries are.

At a more local level, collaboration includes building biosecurity excellence in local communities and the conference featured a presentation by John Kean on the science that is being developed to support regional initiatives for biosecurity excellence in port communities.

A presentation that caught everyone’s attention was the keynote talk from Professor Alexander Purcell (Berkeley College, USA) on the biosecurity threat of Xylella fastidiosa to New Zealand.

Photo credit: Antonio Sorrentino/LUZ/eyevine

X. fastidiosa is a bacterium that has caused severe impacts to the Californian wine industry and is currently decimating the Italian olive industry, killing over a million olive trees. Kiwifruit is not a known host however Dr Purcell provided an insight into the complexities associated with this pathogen and discussed the wide range of strains affecting different plants. Although the true host range of all strains is currently impossible to predict or test, MPI and industry groups for other horticultural products that are known hosts to this pathogen have had it on their radar for many years, as have Australia.

The presentation and workshop following the conference provided an opportunity to advance preparedness for X. fastidiosa and identify where to focus our efforts. For example, it’s spread through Europe has highlighted the importance of biosecurity controls on plant material movements before pathogens are detected.

X. fastidiosa took some time to diagnose, and continues to be debated, as it spreads through Europe. It has now been detected in France and Spain, which produces half of the world’s olive oil.

Dr Purcell suggests that the number of different strains present in these European regions could mean Xylella has been introduced on more than one occasion. Biosecurity practices and traceability reduce the likelihood of spreading such pathogens and provide a far better chance of containment or eradication should they arrive here at all.