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Photo: Kimberley Low / Wine Australia

Coordinated defence against Australia’s most threatening plant disease

Joint media release
Photo: Kimberley Low / Wine Australia
18 Oct 2018

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 bacteria 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 Xylella coordinator 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 the coordinator 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 Coordinator 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.



About Xylella fastidiosa*

*Pronounced zy-lel-a (rhymes with umbrella) fast-id-ee-oh-sah

Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterial pathogen that lives in the water-conducting vessels (the xylem) of plants. Symptoms include leaf scorching, gradual reduction in fruit, stunting of shoots, dieback and eventual plant death. It is mainly spread by sap-sucking insects, or through the movement of infected plants or cuttings. It has a wide range of hosts and infects a large number of commercial and ornamental plant species including citrus, olives and Lucerne. In grapevines, Xylella fastidiosa is the organism responsible for Pierce’s disease. Removal of infected plant material and control of vectors are the only control methods.

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In late 2015, Australia introduced emergency biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of an incursion. These include offshore testing of nursery stock and plant material coming from regions where Xylella fastidiosa occurs and certification that material is free from the bacteria before it arrives in Australia.

About the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative

The Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative is a partnership between Hort Innovation, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Agrifutures, Forest and Wood Products Australia, Grains Research Development Corporation, Sugar Research Australia, Wine Australia, the Council of Rural R&D Corporations, Plant Health Australia and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

For media enquiries please contact

Wine Australia: Hannah Bentley (Communications Manager)
Ph: +61 428 930 865  I  Email:

Hort Innovation: Farah Abdurahman (Media and Public affairs Manager)
Ph: +61 447 304 255  I  Email:

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.