Smart detection of airborne diseases in protected crops

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: School of Life Sciences


Approximately 15% of yield is lost to diseases globally but in horticulture, much larger losses often occur due to reductions in marketable yield. Consequently, most growers use fungicides to manage diseases whenever regulations allow, or, a grower may decide to harvest a crop early to prevent a pathogen spreading from small focus of infection. Since many important diseases are spread by airborne spores, monitoring the air is a useful tool to assist with evidence-based crop protection. This project will help to develop an automated device to deliver enhanced disease control in protected crops in the UK. The project will concentrate on tomato (powdery mildew and Botrytis diseases) and lettuce crops (Sclerotinia disease). The project will train a PhD student to become adept at DNA-based diagnostic tests and provide experience in commercial crop systems. The student will also be able to develop a management plan for interpreting outputs of the spore detection system by using inoculated experiments to understand the maximum timeframes between spore arrival and successful prevention of infection by fungicides. Aims:
A) Design DNA-based diagnostic tests for tomato powdery mildew (TPM).
B) Adapt the new assay, and existing assays for Botrytis cinerea and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, from the wet lab reagents to a dried format for use in the machine with a spore sample so that an automated test can be performed.
C) Evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the full test in lab, experimental and commercial conditions.
Aims A-C support the hypothesis that detection of DNA of airborne pathogen spores can be used as a direct inoculum-based forecast of imminent disease risk in protected crops.
D) Management plan - identifying timeframes between detection of spores and successful prevention of infection using fungicides and to assess optimal locations to sample at inside glasshouses. In addition, existing commercial and published academic knowledge of climatic conditions necessary for infection will be integrated into a simple decision system.
Aim D is associated with a hypothesis that management of disease, indicated by the presence of spores, can be enhanced by timely fungicide applications or harvesting of crops.
E) If possible, add additional assays for fungicide resistance monitoring in Botrytis cinerea.
Aim E is associated with a hypothesis that genetic traits such as reduced sensitivity to a fungicide mode of action can be detected using a DNA-based diagnostic, allowing improved disease control by changing products applied

The project will provide both training to the student in academic and commercial settings and will also develop new science in the important areas of crop protection, which is needed to safeguard food security and to reduce the need to import food into the UK. The novel research will be published in leading academic journals.
The project aligns with the theme of Sustainable Crop Production as it concerns improving crop production pre-harvest.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/S507337/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022
2112761 Studentship BB/S507337/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2022 Anastasia Sokolidi