Because fungal outbreaks can completely wipe out their crops if they're not careful, farmers do two things. One, they spray with fungicide. And two, they test the soil for fungal spores. Neither action is ideal. Fungicide is toxic, and overuse leads to resistance. And testing can take time and be expensive. While farmers are waiting for their results back from the lab, their fields can already be overrun.
That's why two PhD students at Imperial College London are developing FungiAlert, an in-field device that changes color in the presence of certain pathogens. They believe it offers a cheaper alternative to lab-testing and a way to reduce the amount of poisonous chemicals going into the ground.
"We're trying to address the time it normally takes for farmers, and we're also trying to make it more reliable and accurate protection," says Kerry O’Donnelly, who's working on the device with her lab partner Angela de Manzanos. "It means that farmers don't have to sample lots of their fields. They can cover a broad range with our device." MORE