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Researcher uses mathematics to save grapevines from disease

A University of Sydney researcher is using mathematical modelling to help save century old Italian grapevines currently being ravaged by an aggressive insect-borne disease.

Dr Federico Maggi, an environmental engineer in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, has recently returned from his home town of Piedmont, Italy where he spent three months researching better methods for ridding the region of Flavescence Dorée (FD), known as “grapevine yellows”.

Together with Professor Domenico Bosco, an internationally recognised entomologist working at the University of Torino, Dr Maggi studied the progression and behaviour of the FD epidemic occurring in the Mediterranean grapevine plant Vitis vinifera.

Dr Maggi, whose specialist skills include mathematical modelling, says the disease is extremely destructive to grapevines and is causing growing concern to wine producers in northern Italy and other regions across Europe. 

“FD is reaching epidemic portions in some regions," he said.

"The plant pathogen is being transmitted by the tiny leaf hopping insect, Scaphoideus titanus.

"It is destroying species of grapes that have been around for centuries and have produced some of Italy’s most popular boutique wines.”

Insect-borne plant diseases are responsible for severe losses in terms of produce yield and monetary return.

Dr Maggi has been creating a mathematical model for Piedmont’s region that can be used to provide estimates of the epidemics progression under various agronomic practices and epidemic mitigation strategies.

The model is set to guide the Regional Administration to optimise its operations to control the expansion of the FD disease.

The wine produced in Piedmont is a sizeable contributor to the Italian economy, especially as it borders France and Switzerland.

If successful, the approach can also be applied to similar plant diseases in Australia.

“Mathematical models of these insect-borne plant diseases are an important tool in helping predict the progression of an epidemic disease, and they can assist in the decision making," Dr Maggi said.

"The work conducted represents a unique suite of governing equations, tested on existing independent data.

"It sets the basis for further modelling advances and possible applications that can investigate effectiveness of real-case epidemics, control strategies and scenarios."

For more information contact Victoria Hollick on 0401 711 361 9351 2579 or .

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WID 2018