Technology 3 min read

Researchers Develop Hand-Held Device to Spot Plant Diseases

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Researchers at North Carolina University have created a hand-held device that would enable farmers to identify plant diseases in the field. When plugged into a smartphone, the device can collect and test samples of the airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that plants release through their leaves.

Plants release VOCs when they breathe. However, the concentration and type of organic compound are slightly different when the crop is diseased.

For every disease, there is a unique signature profile. That means, knowing the type and concentration of VOCs a plant releases can help farmers effectively identify the disease.

In a statement, co-author of the study and assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the North Carolina University, Qingshan Wei, said:

“Our contribution here is the creation of a device that can be plugged into a smartphone and used to make those VOC measurements quickly in the field.”

Farmers currently identify plant disease through molecular assays. Not only does this take hours to perform, but it has to be done in the lab too.

Between getting a sample to the lab and waiting to test it, disease identification could take days or weeks. The hand-held device, on the other hand, only takes less than 24 hours.

Here’s how the technology works.

Using a Portable Device to Identify Plant Diseases

Image Credit: NC State University

First, the farmer places the leaf of a diseased plant in a test tube. Then, he or she caps the tube for at least 15 minutes, making it easier to accumulate the VOCs.

At the end of the incubation period, the farmer removes the cap then pumps the VOC-rich air into a reader device that’s already connected to a smartphone.

Eventually, the air reaches a chamber in the reader that contains a paper strip.

The paper strip should be treated with an array of chemical reagents beforehand. With this treatment, the paper would change color when it comes in contact with a specific chemical group.

That means, farmers simply have to evaluate the resulting color pattern on the strip to know the type of disease that could be affecting a plant.

Aside from developing the reagents, the researchers also had to design and build the hand-held reader device. It worked like a charm.

In a proof-of-concept testing, the device detected and classified ten plant VOCs with more than 95 percent accuracy. The researchers identified plant diseases such as the late blight pathogen that caused the Irish famine.

They were able to tell the tomato late blight apart from two other fungal pathogens with similar symptoms on the tomato leaves.

Now that the researchers are sure that the technology works, they intend to develop a smartphone app to automate the pattern analysis process. Also, they hope to customize reader strips to address each crops’ unique needs.

Read More: How Plants’ Breathing Mechanism Can Help Create Water-Efficient Crops

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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    Alex Juvion August 01 at 6:01 am GMT

    Agricultural sector has grown up day by day and invented useful techniques through research by experts. It was nice to learn about hand-held device to spot plant diseases developed by researchers that can do the work in beneath 24 hours without the need for laboratory testing.

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