“New Weapons for Tracking Late Blight”
by Jorge Luis Alonso G.
Potato News Today, August 24, 2021
I hope you are feeling well!
I plan to send this pitch to different science magazines. But I would like to see it published in one related to potato growing. Would you be interested in publishing this article?
New Weapons for Tracking a Plant Killer
Potatoes were the most grown crop in Ireland in 1845 until late blight arrived. This disease wiped out half of the potato crop that year and about three-quarters of the crop for the next seven years. As a result, about one million people died, and a similar number had to emigrate to other latitudes.
Today late blight is still one of the most destructive diseases of tomatoes and potatoes. Globally economic losses approach US$6 billion each year. Due to its rapid rate of spread, this disease poses a significant threat to food security around the globe.
Although some countries have implemented decision support systems and other tools to manage late blight, smallholder farmers continue to apply fungicides at a large scale to control this disease. Excessive fungicide use increases production costs and creates severe risks to the environment and the farmers and their families because resource-poor farmers apply these chemicals without adequate protection.
NC State University has created the Emerging Plant Disease and Global Food Security Cluster to mitigate the problem. The cluster focuses on emerging plant diseases that threaten food security, and work began with Phytophthora infestans, the cause of late blight, and several other bacterial, fungal and viral tomato diseases.
The NC State team has developed three in-field sensors. The first two sensors, a paper strip and a chemiresistor, detect volatile organic compounds (VOC). VOC are chemical signals emitted by the plant’s leaves when a disease stresses them. The difference VOC profiles measured by the sensors show the plant stress and thus the presence of disease. The third sensor uses a micro-needle patch to isolate DNA to identify the pathogen causing the infection.
Interest in these devices has heightened as people have become more aware of epidemiology within the context of the current human pandemic. As noted in a recent perspectives article on the “Persistent Threat of Plant Diseases” by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), “Humans are not the only creatures affected by a pandemic; plants can be too, and that could threaten the world’s food supply.”
I propose to write a story (1.500 words) that will highlight how this sensor technology works and describe the benefits for producers in many contexts, even those with limited resources. Such an article would have a broad audience, including people related to crop production, extension and research.
I’m a freelance content marketing writer who wants to switch niches and start writing about science. You can see some articles I wrote here. One is related to late blight, the central disease of this proposal.
I plan to interview:
- Qingshan Wei, North Carolina State researcher and corresponding author of all papers of this proposal
- Gregory Allan Forbes. For about 30 years, he worked for the International Potato Centre (CIP). He wrote articles, technical papers, and training courses to improve small-scale farmers’ late blight detection and management in developed countries.