Unearthing Plant Problems With Sensors

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By the time crops show physical symptoms that they’ve been attacked by insects, plant pathogens or other stressors, it’s often too late. Researchers at NC State University are making quick progress in developing affordable, reliable and small sensors that can detect and diagnose agricultural problems so fast that farmers have time to prevent crop loss.

Working together, two Ph.D. students in engineering and a postdoctoral plant science researcher have created a tiny array of sensors coated with polymers that can detect the unique bouquet of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that plants emit in response to different stressors. VOCs activate the plant’s molecular defense systems, attract beneficial insects and warn surrounding plants of an impending attack.

Problem-solving idea recognized by international corporation

The project won the 2018 BASF Science Competition, which recognizes young North American researchers making headway with problem-solving ideas. The winners are Nasie Constantino, postdoc in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, and Marzana Mahmud and Chunkyun Seok, who are pursuing doctorates in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“We are continually trying to find ways to equip our customers with the tools they need to get ahead of plant health issues,” said Luke Bozeman, director of research and development for BASF U.S. Crop Protection, headquartered in the Research Triangle Park. “This competition provided a unique opportunity for young academic researchers to work in teams to help identify solutions to a real global plant health concern.”

Read the full article.