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Broad-scope plant science journal publishes focus issue on critical biosecurity gap

The vast scale of global trade presents a constant threat of introducing new plant diseases, which is challenging to the United States system of biosecurity. Plant health professionals often must respond quickly to a newly introduced or emerging plant disease outbreak even before a well-validated diagnostic test is available. Additionally, thousands of plant pathogens that already exist have been routinely diagnosed with assays that were not fully or consistently validated, which can lead to inaccurate diagnoses, delays in proper disease management, and significant consequences for growers and the public.

Growing awareness of this gap in coordination and resources for plant disease diagnostic assay development and validation inspired Kitty Cardwell—Director of the Institute for Biosecurity and Microbial Forensics at Oklahoma State University—and colleagues, in collaboration with The American Phytopathological Society (APS), to publish the focus issue “Diagnostic Assay Development and Validation: The Science of Getting It Right” in the journal PhytoFrontiers. This visionary and widely collaborative focus issue contains more than twenty-five open access articles addressing the need to harmonize plant health diagnostics within the U.S. agricultural biosecurity system.

The focus issue contains ten perspective articles and sixteen research articles. Many of the perspective articles are based on discussions among a large group of experts over several years supported by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture seed grant (NIFA 2020). Other perspective articles discuss the outcomes of VALITEST, a similar project funded by the European Union (EU) on diagnostic assay validation. The need and vision for developing the Diagnostic Assay Validation Network (DAVN) describes the goal of facilitating the accessibility and shareability of standard diagnostic method development and validation data/tools across institutions. Cardwell says that “outcomes of the DAVN will include more validated diagnostic assays, faster assay development time, and better coordination and communications across the continuum of plant health professionals and the industries they serve, as well as networked people, technology, and resources to protect agriculture, the environment, and trade.”

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Six research articles discuss developing and validating high throughput screening (HTS) methods to detect and identify common plant pathogen taxa. Three of these papers demonstrate the development, validation, and use of e-probe diagnostic nucleic acid analysis (EDNA). Ten more research articles highlight the validation of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and recombinase polymerase amplification (RPA) plant disease diagnostic assay methods for common plant pathogen taxa. 

“Diagnostic Assay Development and Validation: The Science of Getting It Right” is the first focus issue from PhytoFrontiers, a relatively new journal published by APS. Editor-in-Chief Steve Klosterman remarks, “The publication of this focus issue is an amazing accomplishment for PhytoFrontiers—due to the number of articles and their overall quality. Clearly, there is a thirst for this topic.”

This focus issue aims to raise awareness about, and improve the discourse on, the importance of assay validation for diagnostic accuracy. Cardwell and the other focus issue guest editors (Carrie Harmon, Poonam Sharma, and James Stack) state that this focus issue should enhance the quality of diagnostic assays and increase the confidence in their use for the protection of U.S. agricultural, horticultural, and natural landscapes. As the United States strives to maintain important relationships with its global trading partners, a transparent, robust assay validation system with networked resources and experts will assure trade partners and increase confidence in U.S. production systems. The science of “getting it right” presented in this focus issue can facilitate the protection of plant health in the U.S. and abroad.

IMAGE CREDIT: The American Phytopathological Society

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