USDA Creates National Plant Diagnostic Network

March 5, 2004 - 10:32

The USDA has funded a program to created the National Plant Diagnostic Network as part of Homeland Security’s effort to enhance national agricultural security by quickly detecting introduced pests and pathogens.

The program creates a nationwide network of public agricultural institutions that can quickly detect, identify and report high consequence, biological pests and pathogens that have been deliberately or accidentally introduced into the agricultural and natural ecosystems. The network will provide a means for quick identifications and establish protocols for immediate reporting.

Lead universities have been designated as regional centers to represent five areas across the country. These universities are Cornell University, Michigan State University, Kansas State University, University of Florida at Gainesville and University of California at Davis.

The National Agricultural Pest Information System (NAPIS) is located at Purdue University and serves as the central repository for archiving data collected from the other regions. It provides the means necessary for ensuring that all participating facilities are alerted of possible outbreaks and/or introductions and are technologically equipped to quickly detect and identify pests and pathogens.

Special education programs have been developed to train first detectors to recognize disease and insect problems that might appear unusual for the area. These first detectors typically include county extension educators, growers, crop consultants and regulatory field inspectors. Once trained, the first detectors will be able to submit new and unusual diseases to diagnostic laboratories, greatly reducing the time between introduction and detection and consequently remediation.

During the first week of February, 11 members of the NPDN participated in real-time PCR, molecular analysis training to detect two select agent pathogens that cause the diseases known as soybean rust and southern wilt of geranium or brown rot of potato. The training included a review of the morphological characteristics of the soybean rust pathogen Phakopsora pachyrhizi, a review of species-specific ELISA kits that detect Ralstonia and protocols using real-time PCR technology.

Further training sessions will be available to enhance diagnostic capabilities of the regional center expert laboratories. This training will include methods of detection for the causal agents of sudden oak death and plum pox. As technologies and protocols are further developed, more training sessions will be offered for select agents.

An Internet-based system will be used at the University of Illinois Plant Clinic starting in May 2005. This system will include a new database required by state and federal law to report national authorities. Information will remain confidential within the system. The plant diagnostic system will also include a web-based digital camera to allow diagnostic labs to share images in real time with specialists anywhere. This will provide the opportunity for immediate and remote macroscopic and microscopic examination.

For more information about the NPDN, visit www.NPDN.org.

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