Published on 09/27/18

UGA lab provides quick diagnosis of plant pathogens

By Clint Thompson

When farmers are fighting a disease that is attacking their crop, time is of the essence. 

“In fact, if you go out to a field and look at a diseased plant, perhaps in as quick as 24 hours, that whole field could be covered by this pathogen if not treated immediately. We needed some type of technology (to) correctly and quickly diagnose this pathogen. For that purpose, molecular diagnosis can be very helpful,” said Emran Ali, a plant pathologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The UGA Plant Molecular Diagnostic Lab provides a fast and efficient option for diagnosing plant diseases, according to Ali, who is the principal investigator of the lab located on the UGA Tifton campus.

Part of the CAES Department of Plant Pathology, the lab operates on a fee for service basis. Through molecular and serological methods, technicians in the lab provide advanced testing for diseased plant samples that are affected by bacteria, fungi, viruses or nematodes.

Molecular diagnosis is much faster, simpler and more accurate, and can be performed and interpreted by people with no specialized taxonomical expertise, Ali said. The techniques also allow the detection and identification of non-culturable disease-causing organisms like viruses, viroids and phytoplasmas.

Some common techniques used to identify plant diseases rely on culture-based morphological approaches and can require extensive knowledge of classical taxonomy, he said. Conventional culture-based methods can take 3 to 15 days to diagnose a disease.

Advanced molecular testing typically diagnoses a disease in as little as 5 minutes and up to 3 hours, based on test methods.

“There are a lot of new diseases and pathogens that are getting introduced every day,” Ali said.

Ali and the lab personnel provide molecular disease diagnostic support to UGA Cooperative Extension agents and specialists, UGA CAES scientists, commercial farmers, homeowners and the Georgia Department of Agriculture. They cover a wide range of plant species, including peanuts, cucurbits, tomatoes, roses, citrus and onions.

Ali stresses that the lab can only provide a diagnosis for diseased plant materials. Growers should contact their local UGA Extension agent or the UGA Plant Disease Clinics to discuss disease control and management options.

The cost of the lab’s services varies and is dependent on the method used for diagnosis. Charges usually range from $40 for PCR to $60 for real-time PCR.

For additional details about the UGA Plant Molecular Diagnostic Lab, go to or call the lab at 229-386-3070.

Clint Thompson is an agriculture writer based in Tifton, Georgia.

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