BLIGHTSENSE - DEVELOPMENT OF A RAPID BIOSENSOR SYSTEM FOR IN-FIELD DETECTION OF POTATO BLIGHT

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

Abstract

Potato late blight is one of the world's most devastating crop diseases, responsible for £3.5Bn pa global economic losses (AHDB, 2011). It is a major threat to food security, compounding the stagnating potato yields witnessed over the last decade. In the UK it costs £350/ha to control, equating to £72M pa in high-pressure blight seasons, with 430K tonne losses (TSL, 2014).
In collaboration with Soil Essentials (a leading Scottish precision-farming SME), the James Hutton Institute (world-leading late blight experts), Mylnefield Research Services (JHI commercial arm) and Syngenta (Global agri-business leader), this project will develop & demonstrate a low-cost, rapid, sample-to-result biosensor device (BlightSense) for early detection of air-borne sporangia of the oomycete pathogen (P.infestans), the cause of potato late blight. This will significantly improve in-field disease risk assessment & control, in order to increase crop marketable yield & quality.
BlightSense will incorporate low-cost, antibody-coated sensing consumables with a proven (Rotarod) air-sampling spore trap, with a view to producing a fully integrated wireless product to be placed at various locations in the field to help map the blight risk. The proprietary sensing element excites acoustic waves inside small 'buckets', which have the dual role of capturing the spores and bringing them into contact with microscopic vibrations that can decode the presence of spore particles. A continuous mode of operation is envisaged throughout the growing season with weekly consumable replenishment. Depending on the detection performance required by the farmer, the sensing device will bring 3 levels of specificity: Level 1 (based on size separation); Level 2 (based on shape recognition) and Level 3 (highly specific antibody-capture). The system will generate a wireless signal with information about the size and frequency of the vibrations, which in turn flag the presence of P. infestans sporangia when they bito the sensor surface. Combined with other sensors in the field, this data (disseminated via GSM) can indicate pathogen sources and direction to a very high probability. Due to the efficient contact between the spore and the sensor devices the system will provide near real-time feedback to a superior level of accuracy than currently available systems.
To support sustainability, as a platform technology, the underpinning acoustic sensing device can be adapted by changing the size of the acoustic elements and the specific type of adjoining materials, which are carefully optimised for monitoring other air-borne and water-borne environmental pollutants, with wide applicability not only within agriculture, but other diagnostic industries such as healthcare and biodefence.

Technical Summary

Potato late blight is one of the world's most devastating crop diseases, responsible for £3.5Bn pa global economic losses (AHDB, 2011). BlightSense will incorporate low-cost, antibody-coated sensing consumables with a proven (Rotarod) air-sampling spore trap, with a view to producing a fully integrated wireless product to be placed at various locations in the field to help map the blight risk. The proprietary sensing element excites acoustic waves inside small 'buckets', which have the dual role of capturing the spores and bringing them into contact with microscopic vibrations that can decode the presence of spore particles. A continuous mode of operation is envisaged throughout the growing season with weekly consumable replenishment. Depending on the detection performance required by the farmer, the sensing device will bring 3 levels of specificity: Level 1 (based on size separation); Level 2 (based on shape recognition) and Level 3 (highly specific antibody-capture). The system will generate a wireless signal with information about the size and frequency of the vibrations, which in turn flag the presence of P. infestans sporangia when they bind to the sensor surface. Combined with other sensors in the field, this data (disseminated via GSM) can indicate pathogen sources and direction to a very high probability. Due to the efficient contact between the spore and the sensor devices the system will provide near real-time feedback to a superior level of accuracy than currently available systems. To support sustainability, as a platform technology, the underpinning acoustic sensing device can be adapted by changing the size of the acoustic elements and the specific type of adjoining materials, which are carefully optimised for monitoring other air-borne and water-borne environmental pollutants, with wide applicability not only within agriculture, but other diagnostic industries such as healthcare and biodefence.

Planned Impact

The outcome of this project is to enable in-field monitoring of the pathogens responsible for potato late blight, with a view to improving disease risk assessment, informing fungicide application decisions and ultimately minimising economic and crop losses. Effective management of plant disease is critical to closing the gap between yield potential and realised marketable yield. With global annual losses of $3.5Bn associated with the devastating impact of potato late blight, the potential impact of this project is substantial.
CONSORTIUM PARTNERS:
Soil Essentials benefit from significant business expansion via hardware and software sales for improved disease risk assessment and crop protection recommendations. This builds upon their core business model currently focused on agronomy/IT service provision and machine control. Syngenta has the potential to benefit from defending sales of their control products (fungicides) in the face of changing legislation.
For the academics, the co-operative multidisciplinary convergence of acoustics, electronics, advanced materials, blight epidemiology, ICT and agriculture will enable significant knowledge transfer between the different disciplines, with far reaching benefits throughout not only for the academic groups involved but throughout the international research community associated with these many disciplines.
For JHI, access to new sensing/diagnostic technologies from UC enables exploitation for a variety of crop diseases, and for UC, the opportunity to leverage sensor development advances in the medical diagnostics sector for the benefit of agriculture, opens up a wide range of applications for this platform technology. Both academic institutions benefit from highly-skilled employment, education and training.
WIDER SOCIETAL IMPACT:
Ultimately, impact will be felt across the entire value chain ; growers, processors, retailers & consumers will all benefit, economically, socially, and environmentally. The cost saving to the average UK farm (51Ha) is envisaged to be in the order of £18Kpa, based on a 5% increase in marketable yield due to reduced disease impact & 10% reduction in fungicide use.
Increasing yield & quality enables more affordable food via better pricing & consistent supply of higher-quality produce. Reliance on imports of lower-priced varieties from the continent will reduce & this will enhance UK food security. Also, a reduction in the time spent by farmers scouting for disease & estimating severity will enable an increased quality of working life by more effective time management & improved safety.
Environmental benefits cannot be overstated & are based around increased efficiency of disease control enabling 10-15% reduction in agrochemical waste, decreased CO2 emissions & water consumption from fungicide spraying tractors. These benefits could be greater outside the UK, particularly where farming operations are larger scale, more remote & less regulated, & prophylactic application of more environmentally damaging fungicides are mainstream given visual crop disease scouting is often impractical.
The project is timely given the current economic (market pressure to reduce 40% crop waste) & environmental (increasing EU legislative pressure to reduce agro-chemical use) drivers affecting the speed of uptake of precision agriculture, & the opportunity to capitalise on cross-sector (medical diagnostic) technological advancements. It reinforces collaborative commitment to R&D in agriculture, ensuring that UK Plc maintains its international competitive edge against overseas economies, contributing to the nation's wealth. The real potential for a 5% increase in marketable yield (worth £40Mpa to the UK potato industry alone) & the ability to adapt the technology to other crop disease markets for wider agricultural impact, represents an attractive return on public funds.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Significant new knowledge developed: An elegant methodology for detecting spores or similar agents which can lower farmers yields. This is based on a reusable biosensor that conceptually differs from standard devices.
Exploitation Route (1) The use of a different physical principle for sensing: essentially acoustic pressure to recognise particle size (there is a similar method performed electrically known as the coulter counter)
(2) A significant reduction in biosensor cost via a more practical lower component method: This led to the selective detection of spores or other moieties that may bind to antibodies without issues that afflict most biosensors eg drift, complexity, fabrication issues and other factors.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description Insufficient time has elapsed for non-academic impacts, however some of the core ideas have reached the community. As acoustic wave physics is visual and dynamic it can be understood as something tangible. This helps to stimulate connections with artists (Diana Scarborough 2016). Also waves can have different sizes. This links to "NanoArt: Perceiving at the smallest scales" (part of Festival of Ideas, October 2015). Further, we are also leveraging a remarkable acoustic levitation effect as part of the 2018 Science Festival to increase interest in acoustics and what can be done with invisible waves to help simulate the conditions of space for manufacturing crystals.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description IBCarb follow-on funding
Amount £98,000 (GBP)
Funding ID IBCarb-PoC-0616-038 
Organisation IBCarb 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Unknown
Start 02/2017 
 
Description N/A
Amount £222,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 73095-501289 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
 
Description N/A
Amount £207,000 (GBP)
Funding ID TS/R017840/1 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
 
Title Acoustic bucket method 
Description This is an acoustic bucket in which sensing, trapping and transformation can occur 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The acoustic bucket can be used in several different ways **Modelling and fabricating in-line acoustic filters** Dewatering algae with an acoustic filter Crystallisation via levitation of liquid droplets Mechanical characterisation of droplets via vibrational spectroscopy Acoustic trapping of nanoparticles Quasi-solid state centrifuge Of these, the **in-line acoustic filter method** is the most significant Initially it was used for algae dewatering, but is on track to providing is industrial scale impact and low energy expenditure. It can also replace a centrifuge More challenging is concentrating nanoparticles - A student project with Chemistry "Modifying an acoustic tweezer geometry to concentrate nanoparticles" will introduce the acoustics field profiles to microfluidic structures and technologies. Next acoustic filters for T-cells and viruses. These are close to providing non-clogging filters to reduce manufacturing costs for high value biologics. 
 
Title Potato blight risk map 
Description The project does lead to data that will be used to improve a map forecasting potato blight. This improved map is not established yet, but this will be a key outcome of implementing the sensor emerging from the project ie generating data that will be used in forecasting software for precision farming. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Gradually improving potato blight risk map/model 
 
Description Acoustic devices 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution feedback and knowledge on thin film piezoelectric devices and high frequency operation (which has potential for rapid macro -separations of small molecules)
Collaborator Contribution feedback on acoustic device fabrication
Impact new device configurations and simulations involving tubes
Start Year 2016
 
Description Centrifuging 
Organisation University of Bath
Department Department of Biology and Biochemistry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Acoustics for separating particles
Collaborator Contribution Outlining the standard methods that researchers would use so we knew whether our technology was providing an increment or not
Impact Help provided with their aflatoxin project
Start Year 2015
 
Description Modelling 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Physics of Medicine
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Modelling the spatial/temporal behaviour particles
Collaborator Contribution Experience in measurements in particular imaging particles
Impact Theoretical specification of an acoustic filter
Start Year 2016
 
Title An Acoustic Apparatus 
Description The trapping technology that began with Blightsense led to a patent being filed for trapping particles using a tubular acoustic filte via Cambridge Enterprise  "An Acoustic Apparatus"  IPO Patent Ref: GB1714700.0 
IP Reference GB1714700.0 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted
Licensed Yes
Impact A follow-on project and further investment
 
Title Cell concentrator 
Description This a novel filter technology for aseptically concentrating cells 
Type Therapeutic Intervention - Cellular and gene therapies
Current Stage Of Development Initial development
Year Development Stage Completed 2018
Development Status Under active development/distribution
Impact Too early 
 
Title Blight risk map 
Description *Directly:* The ultrasound signal picked up from the spore, requires a signal processing module that will be incorporated into the commercial product that will be integrated by Soil Essentials Our sensing data will be processed by the James Hutton experts and in conjunction with Soil Essentials will be used to create agricultural blight risk maps for precision farming Soil Essentials will deliver this information via their precision farming data within the guise of a smartphone app that sits within a tractor that is supported by telemetric hardware. It provides accurate placement of the vehicle to track where pesticide is placed, and through determining blight risk reduce the amount pesticide that needs to be applied. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact NA 
 
Description Connecting with artists/public outreach 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 1.Science festival (24th March 2018)
- acoustic levitation (trapping)
- particle sensing (sensing)

2.*Artist perspective on acoustic fields* (March 2016)
Diana Johnston Artist Name:Diana Scarborough
https://vimeo.com/artistdianascarborough
www.dianascarborough.co.uk

3.*NanoArt: Perceiving at the smallest scales (part of Festival of Ideas) * (October 2015)
Engaging with local artists over the summer exploring art-science connections in different ways, with discussion their experience and also their responses to questions posed to them at the start of their engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2018