Contributed by Roger Day, CABI
Some of the latest gadgets and gizmos for detecting plant pests were demonstrated and discussed at the 10th Session of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures on Thursday.
Inspecting for pests, whether in the field or in consignments, can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. So anything to make it a little bit less hit and miss must be of interest to overworked inspectors. Here are a few of the technologies in different stages of development or deployment.
Electronic noses use ultra‐fast gas chromatography to detect volatile organic compounds, such as those released when a pathogen infects plant tissue. Identifying the chemicals characteristic of a particular disease allows the e-nose to be trained what to sniff for.
But if you can’t smell a pest, maybe you can hear it. The sound of a beetle boring through wood can be picked up using acoustic or vibrometry methods – though clever beetles may learn to sit still and avoid detection.
Many insects can be detected using traps baited with lures such as sex pheromones or food attractants. Smart traps have a camera fitted to send images to the inspector who can check many traps without leaving the office. Smart software can even analyse the images and raise the alarm if need be.
Drones or low-orbit satellites scan large areas at a level of detail impossible on the ground. They also see beyond the visible spectrum, so can potentially detect diseased plants before visual symptoms appear.
Generic DNA methods based on isothermal amplification techniques (LAMP) can provide quick and easy identification of pests located using other methods. Increased speed and decreased costs are making such methods more practical in the field.
It will be a while before some of these technologies become commonplace, especially in developing countries. But technology adoption is hard to predict, so watch this space.