Dominican Researchers Create Bike Tire Scrubber to Reduce Spread of Sudden Oak Death

A new device designed to reduce the spread of sudden oak death will soon make its debut at Bay Area trailheads. A joint project by researchers at Dominican University of California and the National Park Service, this made-in-Marin device is designed to help remove the pathogen that causes sudden oak death from the tires of another made-in-Marin invention, the mountain bike.

Sibdas Ghosh, chair and professor of biology in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, led the Dominican team of researchers and students who developed the prototype mountain bike tire scrubber to be used on trails within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The scrubber is designed to easily remove excess mud from the tires of mountain bikes. Mud has been found to carry the disease-causing Phytophthora ramorum pathogen.

“It has been shown that spores of Phytophthora ramorum, the pathogen that causes sudden oak death, can be moved to new sites in the mud found on the shoes of hikers, as well as on bike and car tires,” says Dr. Ghosh. “This is a serious concern for land managers, as users of public open space may visit a variety of sites in a short time frame, spreading the disease to new areas. This is why Dominican University of California teamed up with the National Park Service to help reduce the spread of this non-native disease.”

Ghosh’s Dominican team includes Peter Thut, laboratory manager at Dominican University of California, and students Rocky Chavez, Desaree Williams, and Jim Hansen. Also involved with the project are Bruce Badzik and Mietek Kolipinski of the NPS, and Lisa Baird, professor of biology at the University of San Diego. The Resources Legacy Fund is supporting the project.

Since the discovery of sudden oak death seven years ago in Marin County, the disease has been found in 13 other California counties, along with several other states and Canada.

In preliminary lab tests at Dominican, the mountain bike tire scrubber has been found to remove large quantities of adhered sediment from the tire tread. The device is simple to operate. As riders walk their bikes through the scrubber, mud is removed through a series of brushes. For park officials to consider using the scrubber, the device had to be affordable, require low and easy maintenance, and not need power or use hazardous materials of any kind. Ghosh and his team believe they have met the criteria.

Dominican University of California researchers will take the prototype into the field for further testing and to collect feedback from the bike riders.