There is still much to be researched about the insect phylloxera but understanding its past may be part of the key to unlocking its future in our changing climate.

This is discussed in the 4 July 2020 edition of The Economist international newspaper, in an article titled ‘Phylloxera: The root of the problem’.

The article describes a number of aims of the joint French and American research on sequencing the phylloxera genome and, in particular, importance of this research for Australia where most vines remain ungrafted.

On one hand, this research is looking to pinpoint the definitive genetic origins of phylloxera and use this to help identify its spread around the world. Research to date identifies this origin as wild Vitis riparia vines in the Mississippi Valley in the Upper Midwest of the United States around Wisconsin and Illinois.

A key long term focus of this research though, is to help understand how phylloxera manipulates a grapevine and adapts to a new host.

Researchers have identified around 2,300 genes that encode proteins which the insect secretes while feeding on the vine. These enable it to evade the plant’s immune system while diverting resources from its host. Focus is now on working out the role of each of those genes.

It is hoped that this work will help researchers to better understand phylloxera’s ability to adapt as it shifts its range in a warming world. This spread is already being seen in Europe.

Adaptation due to climate change is also one aspect of study under consideration for the next round of phylloxera research to be undertaken in Australia.

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