Sniffing out the enemy

Rutherglen-based Agriculture Victoria phylloxera scientist Dr Kevin Powell has launched a novel pilot research project looking to determine whether sniffer dogs are capable of being trained to detect Grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae).

Kevin is working with specialist dog trainer Craig Murray and his 20 month old Labradors, Glory and Mamba, to determine whether the dogs can detect a scent from either infested vines or from the phylloxera themselves.

Results of this research have the potential to hasten phylloxera detection compared to the currently endorsed method of digging. Here, soil is dug at repetitive intervals down vine rows to find feeder roots which are then inspected visually using a hand-held magnifying lens. This detection method has proven labour intensive and requires significant expertise.

“Vinehealth certainly sees merit in investigating rapid, sensitive, accurate and cost effective phylloxera detection and surveillance methods,” says CEO Inca Peace. “This novel approach with dogs, combined with the research project led by Vinehealth to refine the development of a detection method by measuring the amount of phylloxera DNA in a soil sample, offer advances in our battle to prevent the spread of phylloxera and minimise its impact on vineyards.”

Our only question is, will the dogs be wearing bio suits in the vines? We’d love a photo of that!