Phylloxera: DNA testing for early and accurate detection


Vinehealth Australia is the lead agency in a collaborative phylloxera research project to develop an advanced early detection and surveillance system using DNA extracted from soil samples.

Once endorsed, the DNA method will form part of an integrated approach for the detection and surveillance of phylloxera.

“Growers will be able to use this new cost-effective DNA method to collect soil samples in the field according to a simple protocol, and then send these samples to an approved laboratory which will detect phylloxera DNA accurately and sensitively using a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay which is specific to phylloxera, to determine the amount of any phylloxera present,” says Inca Pearce, CEO of Vinehealth Australia.

Outcomes of this project will support identification and verification of area freedom status to facilitate market access for growers, as well as improving proactive management strategies for phylloxera.

The project commenced in 2013 and is forecast to conclude in mid-2018. Project funding has been provided by the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC), Wine Australia and Vinehealth Australia. Other partners include the University of Adelaide, South Australian Research and Development Institute, Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, NSW Department of Primary Industries and Rho Environmetrics.

Research so far

Over the past year, research has focused on comparing the sensitivity, cost and accuracy of DNA testing with two other primary phylloxera detection methods – dig and emergence traps. “Results have been encouraging with the DNA method demonstrating various benefits, for example, it has proven to be as accurate as other primary detection methods and it’s sensitive enough to quantify variation in phylloxera levels across seasons,” says Inca.

Research has shown that DNA testing also:

  • Uses a simple field sampling strategy.
  • Requires expertise only in the laboratory.
  • Allows for rapid analysis of soil samples.
  • Ensures a fast turnaround time for results.

“From a user perspective, each phylloxera detection method has its pros and cons depending on the time of year, block attributes, expertise available, resources, time and cost. We are confident that this new DNA method will form part of an integrated approach to phylloxera surveillance for end users,” says Inca.

Results from the first three years of the project were published in late 2016 in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research in a paper called ‘Detection of grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae Fitch) by real-time quantitative PCR: development of a soil sampling protocol’.

A final report to Wine Australia on this project, titled ‘Sampling strategies for sensitive, accurate and cost effective detections for quantifying area freedom status’ was completed mid 2017 and can be accessed here.

Research to come

Prior to completion of the project in 2018, we are working to:

  • Finalise the field sampling protocol.
  • Secure diagnostic capability.
  • Develop an end-user delivery model.
  • Seek national endorsement.
  • Integrate the method into national and state phylloxera protocols/regulations.
  • Extend it to end-users.