BeXyl kicked off! The first meeting of the project’s participants occurred in Cordoba, Spain, from 17 to 19 October. “BeXyl stands for ‘Beyond Xylella‘; it means to be able to integrate different strategies to mitigate Xylella fastidiosa outbreaks in the EU,” explained the project coordinator Blanca Landa. A new aspect in BeXyl “is the focus on the ecological, social, and economic dimension of X. fastidiosa impacts,” the IAS-CSIC (Institute for Sustainable Agriculture of the Spanish National Research Council) researcher added.
Scientists involved in the project believe that the time is ripe to move from emergency mode to more sophisticated strategies to manage X. fastidiosa. BeXyl will last four years (2022-26) and is financed with about 7 million euros by the EU research program Horizon Europe. BeXyl directly involves 31 partners from 14 countries, with three partners from UK and Australia as associated partners. BeXyl also integrates a stakeholder’s board with the active participation of more than 40 government agencies, nurseries and farmer’s associations, NGOs, government agencies, and various operational groups of the EU-funded European Innovation Partnership. The goal is to create a community of scientists, citizens, and end-users, such as farmers to policymakers, to shorten the distance between research and on-field applications.
Cordoba and Andalusia offered the “usual” fantastic setting of natural beauty, history, and culture. In the margins of the meeting, the participants visited ‘Plantas Continental’ (https://plantascontinental.com ), one of the largest olive nurseries in Andalusia producing certified plant material. ‘Plantas Continental’ provides a certification procedure for olive trees, an essential part of the EU “plant passport” system, to ensure the safe exchange of plant material across Europe and beyond. On top of that, the nursery is carrying out a scientific project to study the rooting capacity of selected varieties from the World Germplasm Bank of the University of Córdoba.
A second visit to the field was at ‘Frutos Moratalla’ (https://frutosmoratalla.com), a 1400 hectares farm producing oranges, walnuts, almonds, and olives with both traditional and super-intensive cropping systems.
RESEARCH & RESEARCHERS
The BeXyl project builds on the two pillars of plant protection: prevention and control strategies for the quarantine pathogen X. fastidiosa. Plus, it plays a particular focus on the outbreaks’ ecological, economic, and social impacts.
Overview of the topics of research:
New outbreaks risk assessment
Leader: J. A. Navas-Cortes (CSIC)/Co-leader: M.A. Jacques (INRAE)
Although knowledge of the main drivers of the establishment and spread of Xylella fastidiosa (Xf) in Europe has increased in recent years, high uncertainty still exists, especially for the strains isolated in the EU. The BeXyl project aims to fill this gap to provide policy-makers with tools for a robust risk assessment on new introductions, establishment, and spread of Xf in Europe, considering climate change scenarios. Researchers will investigate Xf strains’ plant host range and pathogenicity relevant to the Mediterranean Basin’s main crops, ornamentals, and landscape forestry trees under current and future climate scenarios.
Detection and Surveillance
Leader: A. Vicent (IVIA)/Co-leader: P.J. Zarco-Tejada (University of Melbourne)
In the EU, surveillance programs for Xf are mandatory. However, the large extension of some EU outbreaks makes early detection still a significant challenge. The BeXyl project aims to reduce this uncertainty by integrating surveillance data-based models with the detailed genetic information of Xf: satellite sensors, sentinel plant species and sentinel plots, molecular diagnostic methods to characterize Xf genetic profiles in plants and vectors, new and efficient trapping method to monitor vectors’ population, including the assessment of the potential application of dogs’ sense of smell for the asymptomatic phases of Xf infections.
Safe plant material exchange
Leader: F. La Notte (CNR)/Co-leader: J. Pagès (ENA)
Thermal treatment is a known solution to ensure a safe trade of plant material. Still, Xf-approved protocols exist for vines only, and more information on their effectiveness on other Xf host plants is needed. The BeXyl project aims at developing new thermal treatment protocols for planting and propagating plant materials.
Host plant resistance
Leader: O. Bahar (ARO)/Co-leader: A. Belaj (IFAPA)
Plant host resistance is the main pillar in a successful Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy for Xf diseases. After almost 8 years since the discovery of the first Xf outbreak in Europe, olives, followed by almonds, are the most severely affected and threatened crops. One of the goals of the BeXyl project is to identify new Xf-resistant host genotypes in main perennial crops and to unravel the mechanisms of resistance to Xf, mainly on olives and almonds. New molecular tools will be developed to assist in the breeding for resistance, establishing the foundation of breeding programs in olive and almond.
Leader: D. Bosco (University of Turin)/Co-leader: E. Quesada (IFAPA)
Former EU-funded research projects provided knowledge on the life cycle, host-plant association, dispersal, transmission biology, feeding behavior, and control of spittlebug vectors of Xf in Europe. The BeXyl project will focus on new innovative biological tools and nature-derived insecticides (from plants and microbes) to control Xf vector populations and reduce their transmission efficiency. Biological control agents, such as new natural enemies, fungi, and viruses pathogenic to spittlebugs, are examples of the investigation in that area.
Control in the host plants
Leader: E. Montesinos (Universitat de Girona)/Co-leader: S. Compant (AIT)
The BeXyl project interacts with other EU projects, Life Resilience (http://www.liferesilience.eu/home-eng/ ) and BIOVEXO (https://biovexo.eu ), to develop new methodologies for plant disease control. The goal is to modify the plant microbiome by applying synthetic bacterial communities, new antimicrobials including functional peptides, and natural plant extracts and bacteriophages to produce plants at the nursery scale with increased resilience to Xf infection and also to treat the plants at field scale.
Control on the ground
Leader: G. Gilioli (CNR)/Co-leader: D. Olmo (SEMILLA)
There is an urgent need to provide farmers, nurseries, and national plant protection organizations with effective Integrated Pest Management solutions to mitigate the impacts of Xf infections.
The BeXyl Project will investigate and validate modeling tools for risk assessment at different spatial and temporal scales and in different agroecosystems, best agronomic practices for tolerant/resistant cultivars in infected areas, and innovative solutions developed within BeXyl for controlling the vector populations and the bacteria within the plant. In the framework of the project, a plots’ network will contribute to demonstrating the use of the innovative tools developed in the project for managing Xf infections.
Ecology and Society
Leader: C. Pollard (FCRA)/Co-leader: J. Barreiro (JRC)
The BeXyl Project wants to provide social, ecological, and economic evidence enabling policy and decision-makers to design and apply socially acceptable management effective practices for Xf. To that aim, researchers will draw lessons from the EU and national strategies to tackle Xf outbreaks, outlining innovative plans for plant health management in future outbreaks. BeXyl will identify potential barriers preventing the adoption of Integrated Pest Management schemes and support their adoption by providing an economic analysis of the implementation of those schemes at the regional and farm level.