Italian police pressure scientists investigating olive blight.

Nature uncovers just how hard it can be to do research when your subjects keep dying:

In the past year, plant scientists at various institutes in Bari, the capital of the Puglia region, have seen their work and their motivations criticized by local campaigners. Most recently, they have been subject to a police investigation about whether they are responsible for the introduction of the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, into Puglia, or for allowing its subsequent spread.

Police have called in several researchers involved in Xylella research for questioning and confiscated computers and documents from scientific institutes.

“We’d just like to be left to do our work without this suspicion and this stress,” says Donato Boscia, head of the Bari unit of the CNR Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP), whom police questioned in April.

“The scientists in Puglia working on the Xylella outbreak have been working non-stop for two years,” adds Rodrigo Almeida, a Xylella expert at the University of California, Berkeley. “Their reward has been to get attacked constantly — I just can’t imagine how this would feel.”

[T]rouble for the Puglian scientists began in April 2014, when individuals told police that they suspected that the epidemic was caused by bacteria that scientists had brought in from California for a European training course on Xylella at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari (IAMB) in 2010.

Scientists say that this suggestion is ludicrous because the Puglia strain is different from the strains used at the workshop; the widely accepted theory is that the infection was imported with ornamental plants from Costa Rica, where the endemic Xylella strain matches the Puglia strain.