Novel diagnostic tools for rapid and early detection of oak wilt

photograph collage; left: rapid diagnostic test for oak wilt fungus; right: invasive tree pathogen on leaves
Left: rapid diagnostic test for oak wilt fungus; right: invasive tree pathogen on leaves


Project phases

Phases 1-2 (complete)


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. 

Lab testing has been a mainstay for reliable oak wilt diagnosis, but the process can be slow, expensive and susceptible to contamination. This work recognizes the urgent need for faster, more affordable diagnosis of oak wilt in the field. The team is developing a handheld reader that will allow managers to detect oak wilt from wood chips within one hour, at less than five dollars per sample.

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?

Practical implications

A rapid, reliable, affordable handheld field reader can improve oak wilt diagnosis rates dramatically and help stop the disease's spread in Minnesota.

Phase 3 (in progress)


Tree diseases caused by invasive pathogens cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the United States. Many tree species are affected including oaks, elms, pine, walnut, and others. The ability to detect pathogens early and quickly could have a significant economic impact, preventing the spread of diseases and the conservation of natural resources.

After developing new rapid detection technology that successfully detects the pathogen that causes oak wilt, researchers will test 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?

Practical implications

This highly sensitive and cost-effective technology will enable the early diagnosis of infected trees of multiple pathogens and help stop the spread. This solution may minimize the costs for municipalities, counties, private property owners, and the State as they respond to invasive tree pathogens.


During phases 1-2, the team developed a novel, patented Nanoparticles-Enhanced Chemiluminescence (NEC) assay for the rapid detection of the fungus Bretziella fagacearum that causes oak wilt disease. Early detection of invasive forest pathogens is expected to have a significant economic impact by preventing the spread of diseases and the conservation of natural resources.

Phase 3 to test the assay with other pathogens is ongoing.


News and media


  • World Congress of Biosensors, 2018
  • Atlantic Basin Conference on Chemistry, 2018
  • ASABE Annual International Meeting, 2018

Research team

Abdennour Abbas | Principal investigator

Brett Arenz | co-principal investigator

Jennifer Juzwik | co-principal investigator

Vinni Thakkudan Novi | PhD student


Lab or other website 


Collaborating organizations

US Forest Service