€1m investigation into sensors for barley and potato disease begins

6 Feb 2017

From left: Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed, TD, with Dr Alan O’Riordan, research fellow at Tyndall National Institute. Image: Gerard McCarthy

Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork, Dublin City University and Teagasc are teaming up to research crop disease in Ireland.

Backed with a €1m investment from the Department of Agriculture, a number of research institutions are looking to get to the bottom of crop disease.

Ireland’s two most important crops are barley and potato, and disease poses a significant challenge to these and many other strands of agriculture.

With that in mind, Scope, a new research project addressing the issue, brings Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork, Dublin City University (DCU) and Teagasc together to investigate the problem and develop an antibody-based sensor.

Barley crops in Ireland suffer from Rhynchosporium commune or ‘leaf scald’, and the potato sector has experienced a significant increase in virus-based diseases, resulting in reduced yield.

“A vital step in addressing barley and potato crop disease is the implementation of adequate surveillance strategies so that rapid, in-field diagnosis can be made,” said Dr Alan O’Riordan, research fellow at Tyndall National Institute.

Scope will develop prototype nanosensors by combining all parties’ expertise in crop pathology, immunochemistry and nanotechnology.

“The diagnostic system will deliver in-field results in minutes while current lab tests can take up to one week,” said O’Riordan.

“Consequently, this will ensure that decisions to spray are made on the presence or absence of any disease, in contrast to current systems based on stages of crop development.”

Crop disease is currently controlled using pesticides.

For example, Irish company MagGrow developed a device last year that reduces unwanted and potentially dangerous drift from crop spraying, winning an international prize in the process. The company attaches of a series of magnetic inserts onto a sprayer and an electromagnetic charge is infused into the liquid spray, resulting in targeted attraction.

EU legislation limiting the availability of pesticides in the medium to long term has created the need for this €1m project.

In December, Origin Enterprises and University College Dublin established a research partnership worth almost €18m. Between them, the duo hope to create crop models which incorporate data analytical approaches that optimise sustainable crop performance.

Prof Richard O’Kennedy of DCU’s school of biotechnology said he’s delighted to be involved in such a programme.

“It will allow us to develop a highly novel antibody-based sensor that can address pathogen detection in crops of major significance to Irish agriculture, and to train researchers in the latest technologies used in rapid, sensitive and specific diagnostic platforms,” he said.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic