Wine Australia and Hort Innovation have teamed up through the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI) to safeguard the nation against a devastating bacteria that could cripple the country’s multi-billion dollar wine and horticultural sectors.

Xylella fastidiosa is an exotic bacterium that prevents a plant from feeding by impeding the movement of rising sap. While Australia is currently free from Xylella, it threatens more than 350 commercial, ornamental and native plant species across the country.

The impact of Xylella overseas has been catastrophic, infecting more than 200 million citrus trees in Brazil, destroying 1 million olive trees in Italy and devastating the Californian grape sector – causing annual losses in excess of US$100 million.

Dr Jo Luck, program director at the PBRI, said there was no known cure and prevention was the only safeguard against what has been deemed Australia’s most threatening exotic plant disease.

“If established, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has estimated the potential cost to Australia’s grape and wine sector alone at up to $7.9 billion. The impact on Australian horticulture would be just as devastating,” she said.

“Through the PBRI, we are taking a coordinated approach, together with the nation’s seven plant-focused research and development corporations, Plant Health Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, industry, state and federal biosecurity stakeholders, to stamp this threat out before it can take root.”

Wine Australia and Hort Innovation are currently recruiting a Program Manager, Xylella, to develop research and development priorities and projects to help protect Australia’s wine and horticulture sectors.

Dr Liz Waters, Wine Australia’s General Manager for Research, Development and Extension (RD&E), said this role is a vital investment in protecting all of Australia’s rural communities against Xylella.

“Xylella has the potential to impact many different plant industries and the coordinator will manage cross-sectoral biosecurity preparedness, act in a liaison role for potentially affected sectors, and ensure there is national awareness and coordination of high-priority RD&E to prevent the pest arriving and establishing.”

David Moore, Hort Innovation General Manager for Research and Development, said the Xylella Program Manager would help to facilitate project management of two further projects currently under evaluation.

“The threat that this disease poses across Australia has seen a focus on collaboration across agricultural research and development corporations,” he said.

“Not only have we joined forces with Wine Australia on this project, we are also working with a number of stakeholders on two additional projects to investigate strategies for prevention and preparedness, as well as the review and adoption of the world’s best-practice diagnostic methods for the detection and identification of Xylella,” he said.