Oak tree suffering from Oak wilt.

MN Impact: New Tool Detects Presence of Oak Wilt Fungus in Minutes

January 2, 2019

Objective

Researchers will develop new tools to assist with the rapid detection of tree diseases (reported as the number of new tools developed).

Issue

Next to Dutch elm disease, oak wilt fungus is the second greatest threat to Minnesota's plants. The USDA forest service has verified oak wilt fungus in 21 eastern states and between 2006 and 2016 it infected over 266,000 oak trees in Minnesota.

What has been done

Abdennour Abbas and his team recognized the need for a faster, more accurate and less expensive tool to detect oak wilt fungus in the field. The technology currently available only allows for visual observation two-to-three weeks after infection or expensive lab tests that can take up to two weeks. If they could create a tool that could provide an accurate positive test field works might have time to apply treatments to save the tree.

Results

The team developed a new tool that combines three technologies: one to extract the fungus from wood chips, one to extract DNA and one to analyze the DNA. Using nanotechnology and gold, a signal appears on a handheld reader if oak wilt fungus is present. Notably, the test takes less than 30 minutes and only costs about five dollars per sample. Currently, the technology can only be performed in the lab, but they are working to make it portable for fieldwork and for detecting other tree diseases.

Quick and inexpensive detection of oak wilt fungus could not only save trees but also save the state millions of dollars in costs to remove dead trees and replace them.