Potatoes are important. They rank fourth among the world’s staple crops. In the United States, they are grown commercially in 30 states and valued at $4 billion annually. Potatoes are also susceptible to 160 different fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases, such as blackleg and soft rot diseases, which are caused by the bacterium Dickeya dianthicola.
In 2015, an aggressive outbreak of this bacterium led to losses of greater than $40 million. In part, this outbreak occurred because of the inability to detect this specific bacterium when seed potatoes were being screened for pathogens using DNA-based tests.
To prevent an outbreak of this magnitude from occurring again, scientists developed a user-friendly online tool called Uniqprimer, which quickly and automatically designs species-specific DNA tags (also known as primers) for detecting pathogens using DNA testing.