New Defra service offers fast oak-death diagnosis

A quick diagnosis of Phytophthora ramorum and P. kernoviae is now available from the commercial arm of Defra's Central Science Laboratory.

Forsite Diagnostics launched the PDplus service, which can identify individual species of Phytophthora using DNA forensic techniques, on 1 August.

Managing sudden oak death requires accurate identification of P. ramorum. Devices are already available for detecting the presence of Phytophthora. For example, Forsite produce a rapid "Pocket Diagnostic" on-site test for detection of Phytophthora. However methods of identifying individual species in the field are less widely available.

Forsite chief executive Chris Danks said: "In PDplus we are combining the simplicity of a pregnancy test with the sensitivity of DNA forensics. A user in the field takes a sample from a plant and runs a Pocket Diagnostic test. If the result is positive for Phytophthora, they can send in the test device for PDplus analysis. From the DNA on the test strip we can identify any of four species of Phytophthora more quickly than current methods."

The Pocket Diagnostic test, which is a 70x20mm plastic strip, can be mailed to the laboratory instead of sending samples of diseased plant, thereby reducing costs and infection risks.

"Phytophthora is a major problem in horticulture and the wider natural environment," said Danks. "Not all species are serious, but P. ramorum and P. kernoviae are notifiable organisms in the EU. Having a much faster and low-cost method of identifying these pathogens will help growers and government plant-health services manage the challenges more effectively."

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