Novel diagnostic tools for rapid and early detection of oak wilt

scientist in a white lab coat tests tree pathogen assay in the lab

PhD student Vinni Thekkudan Novi tests a new assay to detect the oak wilt pathogen

Image credit: Jeffrey Thompson, CFANS



Oak wilt (Bretziella fagacearum) is a fungal disease affecting oak species in 25 counties across the state. For tree removal costs alone, Minnesotans paid an estimated $60 million in the past decade because of this disease.

The key to oak wilt is spotting the problem before it’s too late. When infection is caught early, managers can take action to lower the risk of spread. But it can be weeks before visible signs appear, and symptoms are easy to confuse with damage from drought, pests or other diseases. 

Project phases

Phases 1-2 (complete)

Lab testing has been a mainstay for reliable oak wilt diagnosis, but the process can be slow, expensive and susceptible to contamination. This project recognizes the urgent need for faster, more affordable diagnosis of oak wilt in the field. The team worked on developing a handheld reader to allow managers to detect oak wilt from wood chips within one hour at low cost.

Research questions

  • Can DNA receptors specific to the oak wilt fungus, B. fagacearum, be used to detect infection in real samples?
  • Can DNA identification technology be adapted into a handheld portable field device for rapid disease detection?
Phase 3 (complete)

After developing new rapid detection technology that successfully detects the pathogen that causes oak wilt, researchers tested the new technology with other priority invasive forest pathogens. This includes Dutch elm disease, Annosum root rot, bur oak blight, and cankers in black walnut trees. 

Research questions

  • How can we best develop new DNA probes and apply the assay to other forest pathogens?
  • What are the outcomes of testing the new technology with stakeholders?


This research team developed a new, patented assay that allows rapid detection of the fungus Bretziella fagacearum that causes oak wilt disease. The assay was validated using B. fagacearum, however it could be validated for use on other pathogens. 

The new technology combines a specific DNA amplification using Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) and a DNA amplicon visualization using nanoparticle assembly. Results of the assay can be seen with the naked eye within 30 minutes. The assay has excellent sensitivity (100%), specificity (100%), and eliminates the possibility of false positives and negatives.

The assay may become available commercially. Being able to detect invasive forest pathogens early will have a significant economic impact by preventing the spread of diseases and the conservation of natural resources.



  • Recording of presentation at the Invasive Species Forum, 2024
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting, 2023
  • American Chemical Society Fall Meeting, 2023
  • World Congress of Biosensors, 2018
  • Atlantic Basin Conference on Chemistry, 2018
  • ASABE Annual International Meeting, 2018

News and media

Research team

Abdennour Abbas | Principal investigator

Brett Arenz | co-principal investigator

Jennifer Juzwik | co-principal investigator

Vinni Thekkudan Novi | PhD student


Lab or other website 


Collaborating organizations

US Forest Service

State of Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Frontline Biotechnologies Inc.