Monday, 16 December 2013

Portable RT-PCR to Diagnose Plant Pathogens in Field

Scientists from Texas A&M University, United States of America have developed a portable Real Time MicroChip PCR System to diagnose plant pathogens. The development was reported in PLOS ONE.
In India when we are talking about the implementation of 'Food Security Act' to provide adequate food to million mouths, we cannot ignore the loss of food production due to plant disease. According to a report plant pathogens causes approximately 10%  loss to global food production. In a developing country like India, poor infrastructures and lack of resources it makes difficult to identify and control pathogens at proper time. It results to significant reduction in crop yield per unit. In developed countries the exotic pathogens and certain imported pathogens due to improper quarantine keeps plant pathologists and farmers on challenge. To overcome these difficulties both in developing and developed nations there is a  need for the development of innovative technologies for rapid, accurate, and cost-effective detection and identification of such etiologic agents in field settings. Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RTPCR) process is the most reliable method for plant pathogen diagnosis except that it takes time and instruments are large with auxiliary annexure and also are costly and not portable.
Pic Courtesy: PLOS ONE (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082704.g001)
These gaps and shortcomings were fulfilled by the collaborative and interdisciplinary research work by the scientists of Department of Biomedical Engineering, Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering of Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, United States of America.
They developed a portable and standalone real-time microchip PCR system equipped with a microcontroller for controlling the entire PCR operation and with a compact fluorescence detector for acquiring fluorescence emission intensity for on-field plant disease diagnostics. This battery-powered system was fully operational  with no need for an external computer or auxiliary power source. With these specifications, we were able to  develop a real-time microchip PCR system that is 25cmX16cmX8cm in size and 43 gm in weight. They also developed efficient DNA extraction protocols for field operations, notably without the use of liquid nitrogen and other large lab equipment. Multiple fungal and bacterial genomic DNA samples were tested with portable real-time microchip PCR system. Micro Control Unit (MCU) installed in the system runs 35 thermocycles and detects amplicons in real time with low power consumption (110 mAh), enabling more than 22runs with a single battery charge. 
This system will help in diagnosing pathogens from farmers perspective. It will be useful for Plant Protection Department where the pathogens can be quarntined instantly thereby preventing any entry or import of pathogens form one continent to another.
Koo C, Malapi-Wight M, Kim HS, Cifci OS, Vaughn-Diaz VL, et al. (2013) Development of a Real-Time Microchip PCR System for Portable Plant DiseaseDiagnosis. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82704.

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