Online tool to detect blackleg disease in potato using DNA testing has widespread application

Dickeya dianthicola is a serious bacterium that can cause tuber soft rot and blackleg (shown) in potatoes
(Courtesy: Government of Western Australia)

Potatoes are also susceptible to over 150 different fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases. One of those is the bacterium Dickeya dianthicola, causing blackleg and soft rot.

In 2015, an aggressive outbreak of this bacterium in the United States led to losses of greater than USD 40 million.

In part, this outbreak occurred because of the inability to detect this specific bacterium when seed potatoes were being screened for pathogens using DNA-based tests.

(Click to enlarge)

Dickeya dianthicola is a serious bacterium that can cause tuber soft rot (shown) and blackleg in potatoes (Courtesy: Government of Western Australia)

To prevent an outbreak of this magnitude from occurring again, scientists developed a user-friendly online tool called Uniqprimer, which quickly and automatically designs species-specific DNA tags (also known as primers) for detecting pathogens using DNA testing.

To test the Uniqprimer, the scientists screened 116 field samples for the presence of D. dianthicola and found it in samples from nine different states. The Uniqprimer was able to detect the bacterium when other more commonly used tests did not.

While Uniqprimer was developed with blackleg disease and potatoes in mind, it can be applied to any pathogen and in any geographic area. It can also be used by anyone with an internet connection, even those with no background in bioinformatics.

Shaista Karim, lead author of the above mentioned publication on this research:

“We hope Uniqprimer and the tests it designed will aid in the accurate detection of D. dianthicola and many other pathogens.”

“Accurate pathogen detection is the first step for management of a disease, which helps in reducing the losses in the potato industry and informing the farmers in a timely manner to better aid on-farm decision making.”
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