The powdery mildew citizen science scheme needs your help!

01 Jun 2015

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Microscopic analysis of powdery mildew morphology helps to limit the potential species.
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Powdery mildew on Mother of Pearl (Phlox paniculata).

Written by Oliver Ellingham, PhD student at the University of Reading. Jointly funded by BBSRC and RHS.

It has been a brilliant season for plants. It has also been a brilliant season for powdery mildew! This fungal plant disease, with a talcum-powder like appearance, is reliant upon its plant host to live, survive, reproduce, and thrive. It is therefore a good year to introduce the 'Powdery mildew citizen science scheme'. This is where you can help!

I need people to look out for this fungus on the surface of leaves of garden plants and send me samples (instructions can be found on the blog). In doing so you will be helping to monitor the presence and spread of some of the hundreds of powdery mildew species present in the UK.

With a global distribution, powdery mildews are most prominent in temperate climates, like our own, and infect approximately 10,000 different plant species. Many of these are important in agriculture (grains, salad crops and soft fruits), and are also common in UK gardens. 

When members of the public send me plant material, I begin the identification process. I start off by identifying the host plant, analysing the microscopic, morphological features of the fungus, and finally extracting, amplifying and sequencing its DNA. The DNA sequence allows me to identify the single species of powdery mildew present. When I have enough samples, I should also be able to look at the distribution and diversity of powdery mildew across the UK.

Most research projects are now required to include an 'avenues to impact' section. These are ways in which the general public will benefit from the research undertaken, but these aren't always followed through. By involving members of the public in collecting samples, the 'Powdery Mildew citizen science scheme' aims to increase public knowledge and awareness not only of powdery mildew, but also biology, plant pathology, and horticulture in general.

To send a leaf sample you believe to be infected with powdery mildew please see instructions and postage address on this page:

Please keep an eye on the blog and our Twitter page for updates and a soon to come 'Most Wanted' list.