Phylloxera research gains world wine industry’s attention

The first results from a project aimed at developing easy-to-use, inexpensive and accurate sampling strategies for the detection of Phylloxera were recently presented at the 6th International Phylloxera Symposium in Bordeaux, France.

Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board Chief Executive Officer Alan Nankivell presented the early findings of the project, which is being led by the Board in collaboration with the South Australian Research & Development Institute, University of Adelaide and Department of Enviornment and Primary Industries Victoria and Department of Primary Industries NSW.

‘Australia’s investment and industry engagement into Phylloxera is world-leading, due to our ongoing Phylloxera-free status, the threat that Phylloxera presents our industry with 80 per cent of the vineyards on own roots, and that we are the only grape-producing country to have a dedicated Phylloxera regulatory board’, Mr Nankivell said.

‘The work this project will develop not only has significant implications for the Australian wine industry, but much broader in pest and disease management for the international community’.

The first step in the project is to develop the best sampling protocol for testing Phylloxera DNA in vines.

Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board viticulturist Andrew Downs said it was important to note that this work is looking at the DNA and not the live pest, as the DNA remains stable and transmittable for a lot longer than the live pest.

‘This is the next critical step – the application – of the work that began 10 years ago, when the DNA markers for Phylloxera in soil samples were first identified and mapped’, Mr Downs said.

‘The sampling protocol needs to establish the best location and depth to take a sample from, and how long it will take and at what temperatures before the DNA degrades’.

According to Mr Nankivell, the Australian wine industry has a responsibility not just to itself – but also as signatories of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – to demonstrate with a robust test that proves our Phylloxera-free status.

‘It’s really not enough to just ask them to take our word for it, we need to be able to prove it using the best of our technology and science’, Mr Nankivell said

“The current practice for identifying Phylloxera – digging up a vine’s roots, at the height of veraison, and using a magnifying glass to find the pest – is outdated and has been shown to have flaws’.

The project’s chief aim is to develop a kit of established protocols for growers, which is inexpensive, easy-to-use and accurate, to identify Phylloxera in the vineyard.

‘But this project has much wider implications on a number of fronts. Such as, developing a more complete and professional picture and library of data regarding Phylloxera, which can only benefit the industry in Australia and globally’, Mr Downs said.

‘We also see this approach will continue to drive awareness, risk assessment and vigilance in those vineyards and regions that remain Phylloxera-free and seek to keep it that way.

‘Ignorance is not bliss on this matter. If this kit encourages growers to get into their vineyards, test their status, I’d hope those that remain free of Phylloxera will refocus on the defences that need to be done to keep it that way’.

Mr Nankivell said the protocol and tests they are developing could also be used to identify other pests and diseases.

‘Already, it allows us to identify some nematodes and soil pathogens… this aspect is what really has piqued international interest.

‘While they continue to survive Phylloxera they have other ongoing disease and pest threats that they want to get ahead of and having a cost-effective and easy-to-use grower tool that allows you to identify those threats in the vineyard would provide a significant advantage’.

The research project has been jointly funded by the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, as well as the Plant Biosecurity CRC and the Phylloxera Board.


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