Utah Pests News Summer 2008

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Plant Disease Diagnostics get “Techie” for 2009

  It may look small, but this real time PCR machine will make big differences in the UPPDL’s diagnostic services for our clients in the coming years.
The UPPDL received grant funding to purchase a real-time PCR machine that will increase our diagnostic capabilities. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is a molecular technique that amplifies (exponentially increases) DNA of an organism in question. Real-time PCR is a relatively new technology that allows the amplification of DNA to be seen in real time as it is occurring. It offers many advantages over the traditional techniques of diagnosing disease. It will allow us to diagnose certain plant pathogens faster, diagnose the presence of a pathogen before symptoms are visible on the plant, and to quantify the amount of the pathogen that is present on plant tissue. Although a pathogen can be detected, it may not have caused visible symptoms. Detecting the mere presence of a specific pathogen will allow us to look for quarantine pests.

Using the technology properly and interpretation of results for Utah’s plant pathogens will take time. In the coming months we will set up protocols for a variety of diagnostic tests and test those protocols to make sure they work properly. We will also build a library of DNA primers (proteins necessary to initiate DNA synthesis) that will allow us to test for a wide variety of pathogens. We hope to be able to offer molecular diagnostic services for the 2009 season.

Funding for the real time PCR machine came from the Western Plant Diagnostic Network (a division of USDA within the Department of Homeland Security), the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, and the Utah State Horticultural Association. The UPPDL expresses sincere appreciation for the funding we received in order to purchase this machine. Successful use of real time PCR will allow the lab to reach national accreditation standards that will be required in the future.

-Erin Frank, Plant Disease Diagnostician (No longer at USU)