Portable Test Helps Farmers Find Soil Pathogens Before It’s Too Late

April
2018

A new system for testing the DNA in soil lets farmers find out in just a few hours if their fields are contaminated by harvest-destroying pathogens.

The portable system brings polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to the great outdoors. This method, usually done in a laboratory, involves replicating segments of DNA into millions of copies so that even rare sequences become easy to detect. For farmers, though, sending soil samples for processing and PCR testing in a lab can take weeks. That’s not practical when planting decisions need to be made quickly, says Joseph DeShields, a graduate student in the Dept. of Plant Pathology at Washington State Univ.

DeShields and his colleagues developed a new, field-based, PCR testing system to put the timing back into farmers’ hands. “They can make earlier management decisions rather than later,” DeShields says.

The test combines several off-the-rack technologies into a new approach. The first challenge, DeShields says, was to extract the...

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