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Italy rebuked for failure to prevent olive-tree tragedy

Alison Abbott

European Commission reveals widespread delays by the country’s authorities to halt spread of deadly plant disease.

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A vicious pathogen that is destroying historic olive groves in Puglia, southern Italy, is marching north and threatens to reach the rest of Europe. Yet Italian authorities last year failed to track the infection’s spread, and didn’t follow containment plans agreed with the European Commission, according to an audit released last week by the commission. [...] The pathogen — for which there is no cure — had never been seen in Europe before it was spotted in Puglia in 2013. It probably arrived from the Americas, where it is endemic. Researchers established that it was causing olive quick decline syndrome (OQDS) in Puglia, but protesters challenged their findings. In 2015, a local public prosecutor, prompted by angry environmentalists protesting about the felling of ancient olive trees, even opened a criminal investigation into whether researchers had actually caused the infection themselves. [...] The commission is worried that X. fastidiosa pauca — the subspecies now known to cause OQDS — could threaten the whole of Europe’s olive industry if it is not contained. But the commission also has broader concerns. New monitoring programmes that it coordinates have now identified several other subspecies of Xylella in other European Union countries. [...] Such an array of subspecies suggests that Xylella has been introduced into Europe many times, EU researchers say — and more introductions may yet be found. What’s more, it is now clear that genes flow “relatively easily” between the different subspecies, says Rodrigo Almeida, who studies Xylella at the University of California, Berkeley. [...]

Nature, Vol. 546, No. 7657. (7 June 2017), pp. 193-194, 
Key: INRMM:14369271



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