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Comparison of techniques for the detection of Phytophthora
Phytophthora species are only visible with the aid of a microscope. Plants react to infections with discolouration of the plant tissue and in the case of Phytophthora this can cause foliar lesions, bleeding cankers, stem lesions and blackening of roots. These plant symptoms can be caused by other diseases, pests or stresses on the plant. Detection and confirmation of the correct causal agent is paramount to being able to provide useful advice.
Detection and confirmation of Phytophthora species in samples received through the RHS Advisory Service has traditionally relied on trying to grow a live culture of the pathogen. Many molecular techniques have been developed, able to detect Phytophthora proteins or DNA directly within plant and soil samples. Research has shown these molecular techniques can detect as little as 1 to 100fg (femtograms) of DNA. One fg is equal to 0.000000000000001g, as an example a single grain of table salt weighs approximately 100 billion femtograms.
Although these new methods are highly sensitive, before changing our current system we need to confirm that they are as reliable as our existing measures. The new methods need to be able to detect any Phytophthora species from any host plant. This is a huge challenge as there are around 100 Phytophthora species recorded and there are around 23,000 taxa of plants (within 1,616 genera) in RHS Garden Wisley alone. This gives some illustration of the number of possible hosts that we can see.
By comparing various techniques for the detection of Phytophthora species from RHS Advisory Service samples we can improve detection and give clearer advice.
Samples received through the RHS advisory service showing typical Phytophthora symptoms are put forward for further testing. These samples are processed using three detection methods:
This project will compare methods for detection of Phytophthora species in plant and soil samples. Improved detection will provide gardeners with a rapid and accurate diagnosis and enable specific advice to be given by the RHS Advisory Service. This will help with the detection of this increasingly important pathogen of garden plants.
Detection and diversity of phytophthora in UK gardens poster (2MB pdf)
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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.