Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Small, self-controlled planes combine plant pathology and engineering

14.06.2007
A Virginia Tech plant pathologist has developed autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to detect airborne pathogens above agricultural fields.

David Schmale, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has not only linked agriculture and engineering with his interdisciplinary research but has also given scientists an unprecedented glimpse into the life of microorganisms hundreds of meters above the surface of the earth.

“Until recently, researchers used autonomous UAVs for military applications, but now we can apply this cutting-edge technology to agriculture,” said Schmale, who is an affiliate faculty member in the Virginia Center for Autonomous Systems (VaCAS), a Virginia Tech research center that facilitates collaboration related to autonomous systems in the College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Natural Resources.

Scientists have used aircraft to monitor the movement of airborne pathogens for years, but Schmale is the first plant pathologist to use an autonomous system for this process.

“Autonomous UAVs have distinct advantages over a sampling aircraft operated via remote control,” Schmale explained. “First, the autonomous UAVs maintain a very precise sampling path. We can establish a GPS waypoint in the center of an agricultural field, and the autonomous plane can circle around the waypoint at a set altitude, with about a meter variation up and down. Second, the autonomous technology enables us to have coordinated flight with multiple aircraft. In other words, we can have two aircraft sampling pathogens at the same time but at different altitudes.”

Schmale has used the small, self-controlled planes to collect samples of the fungal genus Fusarium tens to hundreds of meters above the surface of the earth. This genus contains some of the world’s most devastating plant and animal pathogens and remains largely a mystery to scientists who do not have a firm understanding of its ability to travel long distances in the atmosphere. By placing antibiotics in the sampling collection plates, researchers can ensure that only Fusarium will grow on the plates. Over the course of 75 different UAV-sampling flights above agricultural fiends at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Farm, Schmale and his colleagues collected more than 500 viable colonies of Fusarium, representing at least a dozen species.

“For 11 of these Fusarium species, this is the first report of their ability to be transported great distances above the surface of the earth,” Schmale said. “Our work has important implications for the rapid spread of invasive plant and animal pathogens in the United States.”

Schmale’s research is not limited to the study of Fusarium, however. He has expanded his interests to explore entire microbial populations in the atmosphere—a type of research he calls “aerogenomics.”

“One of the species we collected with our autonomous UAVs appears to be a bacterium known only to exist in a cavern in Arizona,” he said. “What was that bacterium doing 100 meters above Kentland Farm? In many of our other samples, we have found organisms that have never been cultured before. Some of these microbes may thrive only in the atmosphere, and many of them may be new to science.”

This and other fascinating results have led Schmale to hypothesize that some airborne microorganisms have “novel biochemical processes for interacting with each other as a community of organisms in the atmosphere.” He explained, “We know that microbes mediate important biochemical processes in the soil and the ocean. It is not so farfetched that a similar drama unfolds in the atmosphere, which we already know is teeming with microbial life.”

Although Schmale is not currently conducting his research for the armed forces, his work has a definite biosecurity element.

“Many plant pathogens are transported over long distances in the atmosphere, threatening agriculture in the United States from both inside and outside the borders of the country,” Schmale said. “An increased understanding of the dynamics of plant pathogens in the atmosphere is essential for establishing effective quarantine measures, preventing the spread of plant disease, and mitigating potentially damaging events targeted at our nation’s agriculture and food supply.”

VaCAS member research activities range from fundamental control theory to vehicle development to applications for science, security, and commerce. Schmale and other affiliate faculty members in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences bring the fields of plant pathology, entomology, and horticulture to VaCAS.

Contact Michael Sutphin at msutphin@vt.edu or (540) 231-6975.

Michael Sutphin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vt.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Trees and climate change: Faster growth, lighter wood
14.08.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Animals and fungi enhance the performance of forests
01.08.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Staying in Shape

16.08.2018 | Life Sciences

Diving robots find Antarctic seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide in winter

16.08.2018 | Earth Sciences

Protein droplets keep neurons at the ready and immune system in balance

16.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>