Miniature Gas Chromatograph To Detect Early Crop Diseases

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are developing a micro gas chromatograph (GC) for early detection of diseases in crops. About the size of a 9-volt battery, the technology’s portability could give farmers just the tool they need to quickly evaluate the health of their crops and address any possible threats immediately, potentially increasing yield by reducing crop losses.


To identify potential threats to crop health, farmers typically look for physical symptoms of disease, such as discolored or wilting leaves. However, in many cases, by the time these symptoms are visible, the plant is already dead or dying. And the culprit pathogen may have already spread to nearby plants, threatening the health of the entire crop.


GTRI’s micro gas chromatograph is a GC-on-chip device. Its separation column, where the gas interacts with the polymer coated on the interior walls, is about the size of a quarter, and the thermal conductivity detector is about half the size of a penny. When the two are combined, the device itself is about the size of a 9-volt battery.


Researchers plan to conduct field tests using a benchtop model of the micro GC beginning in the summer of 2014. Working with colleagues at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, they will test peach trees for Peachtree Root Rot disease at the Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory in Byron, Ga. The goal is to collect air and soil samples that can be analyzed to identify the disease’s chemical signature.


The micro GC project is being conducted in collaboration with researchers at GTRI, Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, the Department of Plant Pathology in the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.


Project Contact: Gary McMurray

Robots That Can Sniff Out Crop Disease

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Each year, U.S. farmers lose up to 12 percent of their crops to disease and another 12 percent to pests. Sickly plants account for billions of dollars in lost profit in the agriculture industry. The trouble is, plant diseases are hard to spot before it's too late. By time there are visible symptoms — wilted leaves, for instance, or discoloration — the disease has advanced enough as to be untreatable.
Smithsonian Magazine