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Revolution in diagnostics promises early disease warning for farmers

PBD Biotech PBD Biotech

New types of rapid testing for soil health, mastitis, bovine TB, Fusarium and post-harvest disease are to be discussed – many for the first time – at the Agri-Tech East Pollinator ‘The 3 Rs of Plant and Animal Diagnostics: Rapid, Reliable and Robust (Enough)’ in Cambridge on 13th February 2019.
Director of Agri-Tech East, Dr Belinda Clarke, comments: “Speed is vital in effective disease management; if farmers and growers have access to cost-effective tools that are simple to use on-farm then they can take a range of preventative measures to pre-empt problems. Additionally if the tests show that there isn’t a problem this can reduce the need for routine spraying.
“We have selected a number of diagnostics that are promising to revolutionise disease management and the developers will explain how the technology behind them works.”
Speakers come from the following organisations: Analytik, FungiAlert, PBD Biotech,  RoboScientific, University of Bristol and the University of Newcastle.
Latest diagnostic technology to be discussed includes: 
Hand-held diagnostic to test for mastitis – mastitis causes swelling of a cow’s udders and is a painful disease that costs the industry £41.8million a year. After a long wait for test results for one of her animals, Katie Cavanagh decided that there was a need for a rapid diagnostic – which could be used to tackle this major endemic disease. By miniaturising a human diagnostic method, she has developed a handheld device that vets and dairy farmers can use on-farm to test milk for the condition. She is now seeking investment to bring the product to market.
Katie explains: “This technology already exists in human health. We’re simply taking what they do in a microbiology lab and putting it onto printed circuit boards. It’s much more accessible and affordable. If you can diagnose quickly and accurately, you can treat more effectively and reduce yield loss as well as potential loss of the animal.”
Detection of infection on seed pre-planting – Analytik’s VideometerLab uses multi spectral imaging to rapidly and accurately identify infection on the surface of seeds, such as Fusarium, Michrodochium and Alternaria. Isaac Gilbert from Analytik explains the technology has the capability to provide growers with greater insights into disease susceptibility – down to individual grain level. He says: “In commercial terms this is early stage, with a handful of important pathosystems ready for use, but we’re excited to share with the industry what wealth of opportunities are in the pipeline.”
Multi-crop post-harvest storage disease sensor – RoboScientific senses the release of Volatile Organic Compounds to detect the presence of disease in crops post-harvest. Angie Curtis of RoboScientific explains: “If we have flu, we sweat and sneeze and, generally, smell different. In a similar way, our range of sensors can be installed in a barn for consistent regular monitoring. It knows what the storage environment, for example, for onions or potatoes, should ‘smell’ like and, if it senses deterioration say by the onset of rot, the automatic monitor sends an alert to the farmer.
“Similarly, our technology is fast and accurate in establishing health issues in livestock – for example in chickens, it can announce the presence of a range of diseases including Campylobacter, Ecoli, Clostrideum Perfringens, Salmonella and Necrotic Enteritis within 36 hours of it arriving. This product won’t be on the market until the end of next year, so Pollinator attendees will be getting advance information about this cutting-edge detector.”
The event ‘The 3 Rs of Plant and Animal Diagnostics – Rapid, Reliable and Robust (Enough)’ will be held on 13th February from 2.00-5.30pm, at Incubyte Ltd, Cambridge Innovation Park, CB25 9QE.