The BeXyl ProjectBeXyl stands for 'Beyond Xylella' and means integrating different scientific approaches to propose and test practical solutions to manage Xylella fastidiosa outbreaks in the EU
The project supports studies in basic and applied research on the drivers of Xf establishment in Europe, resistant plant varieties, new detection and surveillance systems, plant-microbiome treatments, the economic and social impact of the outbreaks
Xylella fastidiosa is one of the most threatening plant pathogens in the world. It’s a bacterium discovered for the first time in grapevines affected by the Pierce’s disease, a harmful grape disease described in California by Newton Pierce in 1892.
Several variants and strains of X. fastidiosa are known worldwide, and more than 650 plant species can be colonized by one or more strains of the bacterium. In several plant species, it can remain latent. But it is well known as the causal agent of important diseases in grapevine, almond, oleander, orange, peach, citrus, coffee, avocado, olive tree, and oak. The bacterium affects the normal physiological processes of the plants and can lead to their death.
In October 2013, for the first time in the EU and in the Mediterranean Countries, scientists reported the presence of Xylella fastidiosa on olive trees in Puglia, southern Italy. Since then, surveillance has led to the discovery of outbreaks in regions of France, Spain and Portugal. Several species of xylem sap-sucking insects, mainly “spittlebugs”, are known to be vectors of the bacterium.
X. fastidiosa is a “special observed” pathogen in the EU, as part of the Union priority list of the most threatening plant pests.
Since 2015 the European Union has been financing research to find ways to reduce the impact of Xylella fastidiosa. At the time, very little was known about the characteristics of European outbreaks. The POnTE (2015-19) and XF-ACTORS (2016-21) projects enabled the EU scientific community to develop knowledge about the ‘behavior’ and interactions of the bacterium with European ecosystems. This process represented the factual-based guidance for economic operators and policymakers to put in place emergency measures to curb the spread of the bacterium in the EU.
BeXyl is an EU-funded research project aiming to secure and exploit the research outcomes achieved by advancing and transferring into practice the most promising prevention and containment strategies. BeXyl means “Beyond Xylella”. That suggests the time is ripe to move away from emergency mode to more sophisticated management strategies against Xylella fastidiosa current outbreaks and prevent new introductions in Europe.
Starting in 2022, the EU will support BeXyl with about 7 million euros until 2026
The project fills gaps in research, dedicating substantial analysis to the socio-economic and environmental impact of the pathogen under climate change scenarios. Stakeholders’ involvement is another distinctive characteristic. More than 40 research institutions, government agencies, nurseries and farmer’s associations, NGOs, and “operational groups” of the EU-funded European Innovation Partnership, participate in the project. The goal is to create a community of scientists, citizens, economic operators, and policymakers to shorten the distance between research and on-field applications.
BeXyl will support studies on both basic research and technological innovation. In the first group, there is work on the drivers of Xylella fastidiosa epidemics in the EU, considering climate change. Scientists will also be modeling the impact and sustainability of different practical tactics to contrast the pathogen’s spread in different agroecosystems and landscapes. In the second group, we find improved detection methods for the bacterium and its vectors, with tools ranging from remote sensing technology to dogs’ sense of smell. BeXyl will also establish a global network of “sentinel plots” acquiring data from a wide range of latitudes and conditions.
Other research lines include thermal treatment to secure safe plant material exchange. To support specific plant breeding programs, scientists will improve the understanding of genetic mechanisms leading to resistance to Xylella fastidiosa. Findings in the studies carried out in former research projects encourage exploring beneficial bacteria (bacteriophages), innovative compounds, and formulations that reduce the spread of Xylella fastidiosa within plants. BeXyl will also outline new solutions for helping farmers to use integrated pest management to control the bacterium and its vectors.