Posts Tagged ‘yellow rust’

Multimillion-dollar project using unmanned aerial systems to detect emerging pest insects, diseases in food crops
By Greg Tammen K-State News and Communications Services Mar 19, 2015


550bad2ac0cac.imageRich Brown, KSU, Salina, KS,prepares an unmanned aircraft for flight.

MANHATTAN — Kansas State University is leading an international, multimillion-dollar project that is looking at unmanned aerial systems — or UAS — as a quick and efficient method to detect pest insects and diseases in food crops before outbreaks happen.

Brian McCornack, associate professor of entomology, is the U.S. principal investigator on the $1.74 million three-year project, “Optimizing Surveillance Protocols Using Unmanned Aerial Systems.” The project partners Kansas State University’s Manhattan and Salina campuses with Australia’s Queensland University of Technology, the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries, and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The project was recently funded by the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre — a consortium of several of Australia and New Zealand’s leading governmental research institutions and universities supported by industry and governmental partners. Kansas State University is the center’s only U.S. partner. Australia and Kansas share similar agricultural systems and concerns about emerging diseases and insect pests.

“In both Australia and the U.S., there is a lot of interest in the plant biosecurity field on how to increase the efficiency and detection rates of plant-based threats using emerging technologies,” McCornack said. “Unmanned aerial systems technologies are promising because they’re inexpensive and you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.”

McCornack and researchers at Kansas State University’s Manhattan and Salina campuses are conducting a series of studies that look at how accurately UAS can detect invasive insects and emerging diseases in commercial wheat fields, as well as how to optimize information collected during flights.

The team’s findings may lead to new pest management strategies that use UAS and other imaging technologies for detecting invasive pests in horticulture and grain industries.

The project will initially target the Russian wheat aphid and wheat stripe rust, also commonly referred to as “yellow rust.”

Kansas State University researchers are working with landowners and the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct approved UAS flights in wheat fields around Kansas. Researchers in Australia are conducting complementary flights to collect supporting data.

Researchers will use UAS to repeatedly monitor FAA-sanctioned fields in key Kansas counties over the wheat-growing season. Aerial images captured by the UAS will be compared and used to identify field sections that have abnormalities, possibly caused by key insect pests or diseases.

According to McCornack, using UAS in this manner removes the current needle-in-the-haystack approach to monitoring crop plants.

“Currently, early detection of an invasive pest requires a great amount of luck and sweat,” McCornack said. “Typically, a landowner has to make an educated guess about where to go in a large field to check for infested plants. It works, but if a farmer or scout has several thousand acres to manage, it’s not very time effective. Whereas with remote sensing, you can scan a wide area in a short amount of time.”

In addition to testing for accuracy, researchers will look at how to refine the aerial images captured by the UAS in order to provide landowners with the most usable data. For example, this could include comparing images taken at varying heights and resolutions — from satellite images to pictures taken on the ground with a mobile device.

“It’s important that we’re able to detect the next invasive pest,” McCornack said. “Since 2001, the invasive soybean aphid has changed how we manage much of the 75 million acres of soybean in the North Central U.S. We believe that using UAS and working closely with farmers and scouts to regularly monitor crops and look for those changes early on can reduce the likelihood of repeating what happened with soybean aphid. Using this technology is not a guarantee, but it can help us understand how to quickly manage new pests that do establish.”





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The Conversation


  1. Diane Saunders

    Research Fellow in Computational Biology at The Genome Analysis Centre and at John Innes Centre

wheat fungus

Yellow Rust spores can be seen bursting out of a wheat leaf from the inside, tearing their way through the epidermis. Kim Findlay/John Innes Centre, CC BY-NC-SA

One of the major diseases of wheat is caused by the yellow rust fungus, Puccinia striiformis, which threatens all major wheat-producing areas of the world. Ominously, we have discovered that the UK population of this pathogen is shifting dramatically, with the emergence of new strains which can overcome some of our most important wheat varieties.

We have developed a genetic technique that helps us characterise the pathogen, allowing farmers to make informed decisions about which wheat varieties to plant.

Wheat is a critical staple crop, providing 20% of the calories and 25% of the protein consumed globally by humankind. Despite modern agricultural practices, diseases of major food crops can cause pre-harvest yield losses of up to 15%.

In 2013, I joined forces with colleagues at the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge to develop a new genomics-driven surveillance method to track the devastating yellow rust fungus and investigate the genetic basis of the new pathogen population.

Our new “field pathogenomics” method is a fast way to analyse fungal diseases from field samples and pinpoint the exact genotype. Current techniques rely on time-consuming phenotypic characterisation – checking the response of different plant varieties to infection by the pathogen – or costly in-lab processes. These methods can only sample a relatively small proportion of the fungal population.

With help from contributors to the UK Cereal Pathogen Virulence Survey, we collected wheat samples infected with the wheat yellow rust pathogen from 17 different counties across the UK. We then used our newly developed “field pathogenomics” method to characterise the genotypes of the samples. As each field sample consists of both the pathogen and its host plant, we were able to analyse both the pathogen and the susceptible host. In the future, this will provide a rapid means for confirming the presence of disease on wheat varieties that may have previously been resistant to disease.

wheat rust 2
Under siege: wheat is a major global crop, but threatened by fungal pathogens. Takkk, CC BY-SA

Invasive pathogens

We found that the wheat yellow rust pathogen population has undergone a major shift in recent years. Interestingly, the yellow rust population detected in the UK in 2013 was completely different at the genetic level to previous UK populations. This difference seems to represent a number of recent exotic introductions into the UK and could have serious implications for wheat production in the UK.

A subset of the new pathogen population was able to infect the same wheat varieties as a subset of the older UK pathogen population. Because the same varieties are infected, this new pathogen population would have been missed if analysis were based on traditional phenotypic characterisation alone. Spotting this new pathogen population is important, because even if it infects the same wheat varieties it could still have serious implications for disease incidence. The new pathogen population may have other important traits or infect other wheat varieties not included in our test set.

As we move forward, “field pathogenomics” could be applied to the surveillance of many pathogens besides wheat yellow rust pathogens, and could contribute to addressing human, animal and plant health issues. Such detailed knowledge of shifts in pathogen populations is important for both understanding and managing emerging diseases. For wheat yellow rust, our new technology could provide farmers with early indications of changes in the pathogen population, and have a positive impact on decisions regarding which varieties to plant in the field.



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