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Researchers Build a Photonic "Nose" to Track Crop Diseases and Pests

by Rishika Choudhury

Date & Time: Jul 31, 2022 9:00 AM

Read Time: 2 minute

A new effort to develop a photonic "nose" for detecting crop pests and plant diseases is being launched by specialists from two universities in the Midlands. For the purpose of researching and creating light-based crop health monitoring systems, Harper Adams University and Aston University are working together. The International Journal of Fruit Science published a report on the findings.

Findings of Research:

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, pests are responsible for up to 40% of the world's crop production. Invasive insects cost at least $70 billion annually, and plant diseases damage the global economy more than USD 220 billion.

In the Midlands research, strawberries will be utilised to test the new technique. The fruit contributes 350 million euros to the UK economy, but it is vulnerable to the potato aphid, which might destroy the crop for an entire year.

Crops are currently treated with pesticides, but due to the impact on the environment, there is growing demand to discover alternatives. One strategy is to use integrated pest management to establish an early warning system (IPM). Instead of dousing plants in pesticides, it keeps an eye out for insect and disease growth on plants, but it has so far proven to be pricey and unreliable.

The new project makes use of recent advances in photonics technology to analyze low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by plants to determine their health. This, combined with machine learning hardware, makes the use of artificial intelligence in commercial settings feasible. Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (AIPT) Professor David Webb believes that "better invertebrate pest and plant disease monitoring technologies will significantly help cut crop losses."

"However, most electronic noses use electrochemical sensors, which have issues with sensitivity, sensor drift/aging, and lack specificity." "We intend to address this by leveraging the rapidly evolving technology of photonics—the science of light—while collaborating with scientists from other fields."

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) will each contribute £200,000 to the 12-month project. The grant is the maximum amount available from their molecules to landscapes project, which supports interdisciplinary solutions to real-world problems.

"With the projected increase in global population, there is increasing pressure on the agricultural sector to achieve higher crop yields," says Dr. Joe Roberts of Harper Adams University. Reducing crop losses within existing production systems will improve food security while consuming fewer resources."

"We intend to form an interdisciplinary community of agricultural science, optical sensing, and machine learning experts to create novel plant health monitoring platforms that improve agricultural production by detecting hotspots of pest and disease,” he added.

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