Biosecurity Tasmania has a Plant Diagnostic Services arm

DIAGNOSTIC SERVICES: Testing for plant pathogens. Picture: DPIPWE
DIAGNOSTIC SERVICES: Testing for plant pathogens. Picture: DPIPWE

Plant pests and diseases create all sorts of problems for growers.

The best way to minimise their impact is to get them diagnosed correctly.

Once you know what you are dealing with, the right decisions can be made to manage the issue.

Plant Diagnostic Services sits within Biosecurity Tasmania and has a long history of providing testing services for the rural sector.

The service has the only national government recognised plant health diagnostic laboratories in Tasmania.

It now provides additional services with the establishment of a dedicated molecular testing laboratory in 2015, which is equipped with the latest in instrument technology.

This area has seen new test developments for diseases of cherries, potatoes, grapevines, cereals, and pome fruit.

Peter Cross

Also known as PCR testing or DNA testing, this area has seen new test developments for diseases of cherries, potatoes, grapevines, cereals, and pome fruit.

It is the best way to diagnose bacterial diseases but is also used for all types.

Other laboratories are dedicated to viruses, fungi and nematodes, and insects, as each type of pest has its own specific test requirements.

Testing requests vary greatly.

Sometimes a grower has a newly observed pest or disease in a crop and wants to know the cause.

This can be done by testing just one or two symptomatic plants.

Certification (for trade or seed schemes) is another area whereby representative samples are tested for presence/absence of a pathogen.

If present, a low percentage infection might be required for the crop to meet certification requirements.

Nursery propagators bulking up their stocks from mother plants invest considerable time and effort and need to know that their mother stock remains disease free.

Testing is also done for ad hoc submissions from the public, research projects and breeding trials, as well as surveillance, barrier interceptions and biosecurity emergency responses.

Diagnostic techniques utilised by trained PDS scientists vary greatly and include: keying out insects, microscopic examination and culturing of diseased tissue, baiting and extracting pests from soil, ELISA testing and electron microscopy for viruses, as well as DNA testing mentioned above.

Most test services are located at New Town Research Laboratories in Hobart, with entomology laboratories also present at Mt Pleasant in Launceston, and Stony Rise in Devonport.

Tests do incur a fee to cover costs, however this doesn’t apply where the pest or disease is suspected of being of biosecurity concern.

For more information on accessing Plant Diagnostic Services, visit the Biosecurity Tasmania website at www.dpipwe.tas.gov.au/biosecurity-tasmania/plant-biosecurity/plant-health-laboratories or call Plant Biosecurity on 1300 368 550.