“The biggest challenges of the 21st century are population growth, scarcity of resources and climate change. To meet the challenge, we need to establish new approaches to sustainable food production,” says
Dr Sarah Sommer, a postdoctoral researcher working on multiplexed potato virus lateral flow assays at Newcastle University (School of Natural and Environmental Sciences) in the UK.
To help tackle the challenge of sustainable food production, Dr Sommer is currently doing a market research course through Innovate UK via ICURe (Innovation to Commercialisation of University research), exploring the potential of a digital agronomy system. It is a four month full-time course, during which teams investigate the market potential of a commercially-promising idea.
The aim of the current research project is to develop a simple, user friendly, but effective preventative disease testing kit that combines with a smart phone app. Dr Sarah Sommer (Team Lead for the project) and her market research team are working for Prof William Willats, the principal investigator for the project.
Detecting multiple diseases
The tool kit under development is dubbed “Spot-on Agri-Diagnostics”. It is in essence based on cost-effective tests that resemble pregnancy tests, but allow fast detection of multiple diseases for a range of different crops, including potatoes.
“We’re currently focused on potato viruses in particular,” Sarah says, “but the versatility of our digital agronomy system allows for a wide range of applications within the potato market and beyond. Horticulture, cereals and ornamentals are all potential application areas for our testing tool kit. Using agri-diagnostics tools we hope to enable precise application and point-of-need use of agro-chemicals. This may reduce the overall volume of products used giving cost savings and environmental gains for farmers and others involved in agriculture.”
How does the concept work in practice?
The idea is to obtain fast results, early tracking of potentially harmful diseases, and to save growers the expense of costly fees charged by commercial labs. “Using agri-diagnostics tools we hope to enable precise application and point-of-need use of agro-chemicals,” Sarah points out.
The graphic illustrations below depect the Spot-on Agri-Diagnostics process as it will eventually be applied in practice.
The benefits of the tool kit are broadly the following:
- one strip with multiple tests
- portable in-field use
- no training required
- faster decision making if test is positive
Market research involving the industry at grassroots level
Sarah would like to know how the tool can be used in a practical environment, and she would like to connect with interested potato industry people with whom she can discuss the concept, its further development and eventual application.
“We would love to hear your feedback, insights, and opinions. Growers, breeders, agronomists, trade associations, plant clinics, food processors, government authorities… everybody is welcome to get in touch with us if they wish to contribute,” she say.
Sarah says that she would be delighted to hear from interested folks across the international potato industry, notwithstanding the fact that she is based in the UK – anyone from elsewhere is welcome to get in touch for more information, or to discuss the concept in further detail.
Please feel free to get in touch with Sarah directly via email, social media, or connect via the contact form here.
Dr Sarah Sommer