COLLEGE STATION This science may literally be outside the box: A briefcase-sized kit is carried to a field where thousands of tons of food are growing. The search is for microorganisms that could infect and kill the plants, wreaking havoc on the food supply and market.
If the equipment in the box finds the pathogen, experts can tell farmers how to prevent the devastation. Quick and accurate are key.
That's what scientists plan to do within three years, according to Dr. Won-Bo Shim, Texas AgriLife Research plant pathologist. He's lead investigator on a $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that takes aim at protecting the nation's food and agriculture from bacterial, fungal and viral agents on the homeland security select list.
PADLOC is what they have already named the futuristic kit Pathogen Detection Lab-On-a-Chip.
"It's a portable system," Shim said. "The idea is to shorten the current detection process to a few hours so that a plan could be set up to minimize impact from such plant diseases."
Currently, if a new plant disease appears on a farm, it could take days to find, sample, ship to a lab and run tests to verify, Shim explained, and that time increases the chance for irreversible damage to the food supply and marketplace.
One of the novel approaches to creating a faster system, Shim explained, is collaboration between the experts in plant pathology and his co-investigator Dr. Arum Han, a Texas A&M University electrical engineer who specializes in nanotechnology where things are measured in billionths.
The two met almost accidentally at a social for professors. Shim recalls that as each asked the other about their research efforts, the notion clicked that one's skill could supplement the other to develop a better detection system.
"There's a need for a system that is not only portable but rapid, accurate and 'dummy proof' so that someone with no background in the science
|Contact: Kathleen Phillips|
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications