But the nature of diseases in plants presents the challenge. Humans and other animals have an immune system, so researchers predict the strains of flu that might be present in a given year and make a vaccine against that, he explained.
Because plants do not have immune systems, breeders are constantly trying to stay ahead of disease outbreaks by breeding new varieties a process that can take years, Shim said. If a new or foreign plant pathogen is introduced to an area, susceptible plants are not able to defend themselves. If farmers knew about the presence of such a disease early enough, the infected portion of the crop could be eradicated to prevent disease from spreading to the remaining fields.
"One thing about plant diseases is that there are so many," Shim explained. "There are bacteria, fungi and viruses that cause plant diseases, and the symptoms are also quite diverse. Even the experts when they see a disease on a plant will scratch their heads about the cause, especially if it is a newly introduced microorganism."
In the 1980s and 90s, plant pathologists relied on visual inspections to determine diseases, he said. More recently, technology emerged to allow labs to detect pathogens at the molecular level with high precision and accuracy. However, this diagnostic process requires a lab equipped with bulky instruments.
With Han's expertise in nanotechnology, the team plans to cram this "lab" into a "box." And that means packing the sophisticated measuring devices, reagents, power supply and other features that now take up lab space into a parcel no bigger or heavier than a briefcase.
The kit, he said, would be "a library to target the plant diseases of national interest."
The first goal is to make a kit to test in the field. Shim expects that to be acc
|Contact: Kathleen Phillips|
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications