Olive producers in Italy are facing a serious outbreak of a deadly plant disease – olive quick decline syndrome, also called leaf scorch. Its symptoms including leaf scorching, twig and branch die back and, ultimately, tree death. There is no known treatment or cure. The disease is caused by a bacterium which is spread by insects. It has destroyed thousands of hectares of olives in the southern part of Italy.

The bacterium has been found in ornamental plants outside of Paris. Concerned by the potential of the deadly pathogen to spread to other countries (and impact other plants), European agriculture experts are meeting to develop an action plan to save the continent’s trees.

A different subtype of the disease (Pierce’s disease) devastated U.S. vineyards in the 1990s. University of California researchers estimate the disease costs the state more than $1 million each year in crop losses and research costs.

Kim Willsher reports for The Guardian:


The French ministry of agriculture has banned imports of certain plants from contaminated regions of Italy and South America.

“More than 200 officials are on alert to test seedlings and farms and there are inspectors at 32 points of entry for these goods including airports and ports,” Emmanuelle Soubeyran, from the ministry, told the JDD. France is also seeking European money to fight the disease.

The outbreak in Italy has California researchers worried and baffled, and the University of California is tackling the problem.


““Of course, we’re concerned about diseases impacting olive trees in Italy,” [Elizabeth] Fichtner [a UC researcher] said. “From a standpoint of biosecurity, it’s very important for us to be aware of the potential introduction of a new pathogen.”

The University of California is advising the state’s olive growers and landscape managers  to be on the lookout for symptoms.


“Because of the regular movement of plants and plant materials across international borders, there is a constant flux of organisms,” Fichtner said. “We need to be aware of global trends in plant diseases and the establishment of insects that can spread disease.

The research of Fichtner and other scientists is part of the University of California’s Global Food Initiative, which seeks to harness the institution’s resources to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population. Learn more about the GFI.


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