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Can field diagnostics help to manage crop disease?
Airborne plant diseases account for significant losses in a number of crops in the UK, often controlled through prophylactic spraying. Continued application of fungicide provides a powerful selection pressure which is driving the development of resistance globally; worryingly the pipeline of alternative active compounds is drying up and consequently we need to prolong the life of existing compounds. A more precise, data driven approach to product application may result in improved efficacy and reduce the over use of treatments that have driven the build up of resistance. The aim of the work is to use in-field and automated diagnostics to measure both the movement of inoculum into crops as well as the genotype of the pathogens in crops. Linking this information with environmental monitoring to provide risk prediction by use of disease forecasting systems could deliver more effective information to help manage the disease. Automated monitoring of inoculum in real-time should pinpoint the timing of infection, enabling application of crop protection products at the time when they are most effective for controlling disease. Work has been progressing on the development of an in-field, self-reporting, automated spore detection system, to monitor ingress of inoculum into fields. Based on cyclone air sampling technology linked to isothermal DNA amplification chemistry (LAMP) the system will sample and test air, unattended within crops, transferring data on inoculum movement wirelessly to the laboratory. In addition to inoculum detection, detecting resistant genotypes of a pathogen is also critical to enable effective spray decisions to be made. Work has started on the development of LAMP assays to discriminate the genetic mutations responsible for resistance build-up. The assays will be deployed as a handheld test, enabling decisions on the most effective sprays to be made rapidly in the field. Ultimately the two developments will converge, telling us not just when we should spray crops but also what active chemistry will be most effective. By taking a generic approach to the development based on DNA detection, the systems should be transferable to any crop – pathogen system where collecting data on timing of infection is critical to control.
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