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Plant Protection Today - How Our Scientific Support Lab Strengthens Domestic and Emergency Programs

How Our Scientific Support Lab Strengthens Domestic and Emergency Programs
September 30, 2021
[The Domestic and Emergency Scientific Support team draws on the best science, technology, and methods from scientists and partners inside and outside of government. As part of its work, the team helps protect U.S. citrus health against a variety of exotic citrus pests—through survey, diagnostics, and mitigation—to safeguard citrus-growing States and keep export markets open. Cover Image by sripfoto, stock.adobe.com.]

This Cross-Cutting Scientific Team Taps the Full Range of Our Scientific Expertise

By Sharon Lucik

The Domestic and Emergency Scientific Support team worked with PPQ’s New York employees to conduct a trap and lure comparison study to increase trap captures for European cherry fruit fly.

USDA’s Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program continues its series of articles highlighting the cutting-edge work of our Science and Technology laboratories. Every day our scientists and technical professionals apply their expertise to safeguarding agriculture and facilitating safe trade. Next up: the Domestic and Emergency Scientific Support (DESS) team—formerly known as the National Science Program Group.

“Our team is a bit different from a typical laboratory staff,” explains DESS Director Tara Holtz. “The majority of our work is done in collaboration with other S&T scientists, PPQ partners, and outside cooperators. We provide scientific leadership and cross-cutting coordination to help PPQ effectively respond, manage, and solve pest issues.”

Holtz manages the 11-person team that includes National Science Program Coordinators, Staff Scientists, Biological Science Technicians, and an APHIS Science Fellow. Together, they coordinate the scientific contributions from different laboratories and make recommendations to program leaders to enhance and improve the staff’s efforts on the ground. The DESS team also helps to inform PPQ’s scientific investments based on program needs. This links scientific advancements directly to the programs they support.

The box tree moth (pictured here) can significantly damage and potentially kill boxwood plants if left unchecked. The DESS team worked across multiple Science and Technology laboratories to provide survey and treatments options for the moth.

Holtz and the DESS team worked closely with Forest Pest Methods Laboratory and Field Operations staff to implement a large-scale field trial to monitor treatment efficacy on spotted lanternfly egg masses. “Above all, the DESS work unit strives to ensure PPQ has the information, tools, and technology to make scientifically valid operational, regulatory, and policy decisions,” said Holtz. “That means we’re at the table when PPQ meets to review, strategize, and develop tactics for box tree moth, spotted lanternfly, citrus health, coconut rhinoceros beetle, imported fire ant, fruit fly, Phytophthora ramorum, biological control, domestic seed health, and the special initiatives such as agricultural detector canine use.”

PPQ’s emergency and domestic programs are the cornerstone of the DESS team’s work; however, because of their vast knowledge and skillset, they also support the mission and goals of these foundational programs:

  • The National Plant Protection Laboratory Accreditation Program: This program evaluates laboratories that use molecular diagnostics to support PPQ programs to ensure their capability to make accurate diagnostic determinations for regulatory purposes. 
  • Plant Protection Act Section 7721: APHIS provides funding annually through the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program and the National Clean Plant Network programs under the authority of the Plant Protection Act’s (PPA) Section 7721.
  • Harmonization Advisory Group: This group develops, coordinates, and advances U.S. strategies for safe trade in plant commodities through the development and use of science-based standards in the International Plant Protection Convention and the North American Plant Protection Organization.
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