Identifying a soybean disease can be a slow science. If it can’t be identified by the naked eye, a sample must be sent to a lab for testing, which often means a wait of several days for results. That wait could be the difference between the success and failure of a crop.

Ashli Brown hopes to decrease that wait time from several days to just a few minutes by finding a way to detect plant pathogens with infrared technology. The Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board (MSPB) partially funds her research.

“Researchers, extension agents and farmers need more reliable tools to detect pathogens in the field,” says Brown, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Mississippi State University and director of the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory. “Faster detection of plant diseases will allow farmers to treat their fields more quickly and effectively.”

As farmers know, earlier detection and treatment of plant diseases will result in increased quality and yield.

Brown’s research focuses on fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) technology. This technology passes beams of infrared light through a pathogen sample, which causes the atoms in the cell walls of the sample to vibrate at different wavelengths. Because different pathogens vibrate at different wavelengths, a unique profile will be developed for each pathogen tested.

Brown and her team are now working to build a library with profiles for a variety of pathogens that cause diseases in crops, particularly soybeans. Next, they’ll work on software and a handheld version of the FT-IR equipment that will allow extension agents and consultants to diagnose diseases in the field.

“There are still a lot of kinks that need to be worked out,” Brown said, “but the results so far are extremely exciting and it looks very promising.”

Brown says funding from MSPB provided more than just monetary support.

“MSPB’s decision to fund this research proves that farmers believe the technology will have a direct impact on the state and its soybean farmers,” says Brown.

The research marks the first application of FT-IR technology to agriculture, although it is far from a new technology. Brown says the technology has been in use for many years. For example, the Drug Enforcement Agency uses FT-IR to determine if a powder is drug-related and by firefighters trying to determine if an object is an explosive.

To watch a video on Brown’s research, click here.