Projects

Supporting plant health – metrology for detection and traceable monitoring of plant pathogens

Project coordinator: Mojca Milavec, PhD

Code: J2-2488

Duration: 1. 9. 2020 - 31. 8. 2023

The authors acknowledge the project J2-2488 was financially supported by the Slovenian Research Agency.

Plant pathogens have been a challenge for food security since the beginning of the domestication of wild plants. Several plant diseases have contributed to significant societal changes. One of the most devastating outbreaks of plant pathogens happened in 19th century in Ireland, when Phytophthora infestans spread rapidly throughout the country and ravaged the main source of food - potato. Irish Potato Famine or the Great Hunger resulted in the death of roughly one million people from starvation and related causes and at least another million were forced to leave their homeland. Today, the danger of such extensive damages is alleviated by better plant health, which includes all aspects from healthy seeds, regular monitoring and survey programmes to agricultural technology. The awareness of potentially devastating socioeconomic consequences of harmful organisms is higher than ever before, and many efforts at national and international levels have led to better understanding of plant pest epidemiology and management.


Laboratory diagnostics is an integral part of plant health management, as detection and identification of plant material contaminated with plant pathogens allows their exclusion from agricultural production chains. For reliable surveying, sensitive, repeatable and accurate methods are needed. Despite many efforts towards standardisation of approaches and measurements, there is still a lack of comparability of results among laboratories. Comparability of results could be improved by the development of reference measurement procedures and reference materials with established metrological traceability that are currently missing in the field of plant health.


The main objective of the project is to design and evaluate a metrological framework, which would underpin plant pathogen diagnostics, so that correct steps in prevention of spread of the plant pathogens can be assured, and with that potential economic fallout or even famine can be prevented. The specific objectives of this research project are:

  • to define the core measurement requirements for accurate and reproducible measurements associated with investigation and management of plant pathogenic bacteria,
  • to develop quantitative, validated and highly accurate measurement procedure(s),
  • to investigate possibilities to use materials of different level of complexity (e.g. synthetic DNA, plasmids, genomic DNA, whole organisms) as potential reference materials with the special emphasis on their commutability,
  • to use the developed measurement procedure(s) and materials to investigate existing approaches and methods used in the plant pathogen testing laboratories, and finally
  • to suggest a metrologically underpinned approach in a form of guidelines for development of reference materials and reference method(s) for plant pathogen diagnostic and research.


This project will bring fuller understanding of the need for the metrological support in plant health and contribute to the prevention of the spread of disease, such as infection of olive trees with Xylella fastidiosa bacterium. The development of reference material(s) and method(s) will also have a great impact on the proficiency testing schemes and will consequently notably contribute to comparability and standardisation of plant pathogen diagnostics. The principle of development of reference methods and materials will be transferable to uncultivable bacteria and other plant pathogens, such as viruses and phytoplasmas.

Project official site on - ProRef

Researchers - link to database SICRIS

Information about the project - link to database SICRIS