Test advances set for field use

Work on DNA and acoustic devices aims to boost plant health inspectors' disease-test regimes.

New techniques for plant health inspectors such as DNA testing and listening devices could be in use by the end of the year, according to the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA).

The agency is coordinating Q-DETECT, an EU project aimed at developing field sampling and detection methods to aid inspectors. The project, due to run until spring 2013, brings together organisations and companies from 15 countries.

Coordinator Neil Boonham said: "This project is trying to bring together experts in the technology and pathologists who are experts in the diseases to ensure that these methods are what the stakeholders want."

DNA testing methods are among those close to being deployed and devices will allow tests to be conducted in the field in 10-15 minutes. "The equipment is portable and simple to use," said Boonham. "Trials are going on in the UK for citrus blackspot, brown rot and ring rot."

Acoustic methods are also being trialled in the UK. "Inspectors are cutting acers in half and looking for exit holes, which is quite destructive. Strapping microphones to the trees means they can listen for the sounds made by the beetles biting into the wood fibres and then investigate further," said Boonham.

Smart traps with cameras to identify pests without collecting the traps could also soon be introduced and could help detect forest pests such as the citrus longhorn beetle.

DNA To detect pest or pathogen-specific nucleic acid.
Acoustic To detect wood-boring pests by their sounds.
Electronic To identify diseases from volatiles produced.
Remote imaging To identify disease-prevalent areas.
Smart traps with cameras To identify pests before collection.

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