Innovation That Matters

| Photo source North Carolina State University

A plant patch monitors crop stress

Agriculture & Energy

The patch will be able to detect different pathogens and stresses that affect plants

Spotted: Plant diseases represent a big threat to global food security and ecosystem health, especially as fungal crop diseases have increased in severity and scale in recent decades. To tackle this, researchers from North Carolina State University have developed an electronic patch that can be applied to plant leaves to monitor for pathogens like viral and fungal infections, and stresses like drought or salinity. 

The patches are only 30mm long and made from a flexible material that contains sensors and silver nanowire-based electrodes. In order to test the efficacy of the patches, the researchers placed them on the underside of leaves of tomato plants growing in greenhouses and experimented with patches that incorporated different combinations of sensors. 

The plants were infected with three different viral and fungal pathogens, and also exposed to abiotic stresses like overwatering, drought conditions, lack of light, and high salt concentrations in the water. Following the tests, the researchers found the patch could detect viral infection in tomatoes more than a week before growers could detect any visible symptoms of the disease. Using an artificial intelligence (AI) program, the researchers were also able to determine which combinations of sensors worked most effectively to identify the diseases and other stresses.

The results were extremely promising, but the research team says it is still two steps away from having a commercial patch that growers can use. First, the patches need to become wireless. Next, the patches also must be tested outside, rather than in greenhouses, to ensure the patches will work the same under real-world conditions. 

Springwise has spotted many innovations looking to manage crops and plants, including a device that waters plants at their roots to save water resources, and AI cameras that spot pest damage early.

Written By: Anam Alam

Email: qwei3@ncsu.edu

Website: ncsu.edu

Contact: ncsu.edu/contact

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