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Strawberry with phytoplasma disease, courtesy of Annette Dullemans PRI

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Objectives and benefits

Main/primary objectives

The main objective of this Action is the enhancement and exchange of scientific knowledge and technologies related to phytoplasma diseases, through the establishment of a multidisciplinary scientific European Network, aimed at developing strategies to detect and prevent biological invasion, and the spread of phytoplasma diseases of plants.

Secondary objectives

The Action will strengthen and consolidate existing European networks through the following secondary objectives:

develop and optimize diagnostic strategies/protocols based on innovative molecular tools for phytoplasmas in the European Union;
establish core collections of phytoplasma strains for use in development of rapid diagnosis of disease and for reference;
establish a network for vector population monitoring;
design integrated and innovative management strategies for sustainable disease control;
promote an international response to disease threats by networking countries on the front-line of disease outbreaks with vulnerable, but disease-free countries;
promote a basic understanding of diseases by establishing a systems biology platform;
support national plant protection organizations and European organizations (e.g. EPPO) by providing data and extension materials on phytoplasma diseases;
transfer innovations rapidly to end-user groups (i.e., SMEs, plant protection organizations, plant inspection services, grower groups);
train early-stage researchers and scientists from less developed regions of the COST countries with the most friendly and innovative technological knowledge;
provide training of plant protection officers in countries threatened by biological invasion by diseases (including diagnostic, monitoring and quarantine procedures);
increase public awareness of phytoplasma diseases. 

Emphasis will be placed on filling gaps in national awareness of phytoplasma disease threats, and on procedures to rapidly detect and combat phytoplasma invasions in European agro-ecosystems.

How will the objectives be achieved?

The objectives will be achieved through close cooperation of the laboratories involved. Working Groups will be established that hold regular meetings enabling rapid presentation and discussion of recent scientific data. The proceedings of these meetings will be published on a dedicated website that will be established through this Action, and a Newsletter with graphic fact-sheets describing diseases and control/prevention options will be produced to alert other interested parties (e.g. EPPO, grower groups, plant inspection services, agro-industries etc.). The website will also provide bioinformatics data in a standard format to facilitate dissemination of collaborative progress. Public awareness of phytoplasma diseases will be enhanced through publication in non-scientific journals, and in an open access website domain. Exchange programmes for early-stage researchers and scientists with short term scientific missions (STSMs), exchange of materials, and training workshops in diagnostics and in other key methodologies will be managed through the Action. The progress of both primary and secondary objectives will be monitored mainly through progress reports and the evaluation of milestones listed in part E.

Benefits of the Action

  To the scientific community: the main benefit of this Action will be to increase the competitiveness of European phytoplasma research in the world arena. The results of this will be accelerated research progress, increased publications and the development and transfer to end users of strategies to control these diseases. The multi-disciplinary nature of the Action will enable researchers from a range of disciplines (e.g. pathologists, geneticists, diagnosticians, molecular biologists, entomologists) who share a common interest (phytoplasma), but do not regularly interact at scientific conferences, to meet and exchange innovative ideas, and will in turn lead to the establishment of new networks and further EU research projects (e.g. FP7).

  To society and the environment: understanding mechanisms of phytoplasma diseases will result in improved methods for disease control, including a more targeted and effective use of insecticides, such that there overall usage and the environmental damage they cause, is reduced. The reduction in crop losses will improve agricultural productivity which in turn will help drive down the costs and increasing the quality to the consumer for foodstuffs.

  For employment: a concerted European Action on phytoplasma diseases and the increased competitiveness of the research that results from this will not only improve the skill bases of phytoplasma researchers across Europe, but will also ensure that future opportunities are available for early-stage researchers to pursue careers in this area.

  For European research: this Action will include a large number of former Eastern European countries where agriculture and the rural economy employs significant numbers of workers, and where phytoplasma diseases have a major impact on productivity. The integration of researchers from these countries into the framework will ensure that they can obtain the best and most relevant and innovative training in new technologies. In turn, the old COST countries will gain a greater understanding of the distribution of phytoplasma diseases and of their vectors in the new COST countries, and will be better able to monitor the spread of these diseases and protect the agricultural industries against disease spread across Europe, increasing in the same time the quality of food stuff.

  For developing nations and the global economy: phytoplasma diseases are a significant problem in developing countries such as Africa, Asia and South and Central America. European researchers have been actively involved for many years in phytoplasma research in these countries through EU and National Government funded programmes, and there are current projects that address the Millennium Development Goals. The enhanced competitiveness of European research into phytoplasmas with innovative methodology that results from this Action will maintain and improve the position of European scientists to contribute to research programmes and collaborations with scientists from developing countries, targeted at improving agricultural productivity and addressing these Millennium Development Goals.

Target groups/end users

The improvements to diagnostic, detection and vector monitoring systems will aid plant health inspectors and quarantine services to reduce the risk of spread of phytoplasma diseases into and within Europe. Appropriate and coordinated use of control methods will improve crop management and provide financial benefit to the farming and agricultural industries both in the COST countries and in developing countries. An improved understanding of fundamental phytoplasma biology will enhance the competitiveness of European research scientists and also allow the availability of germplasm material that can have reduced impact from phytoplasma diseases.


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