Sensor receives panic signals from plant under attack

Published on
May 13, 2022

Living organisms are constantly sending out electrophysical signals. Plants use these electrical signals to detect stress when attacked by pests and diseases. The Business Unit Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs of Wageningen University & Research is investigating whether sensors can recognize electrophysical signals.

With this knowledge, diseases and pests can be recognized at an earlier stage, and control measures can therefore be taken more quickly. This is important for propagators: they want to supply clean plants to growers, who in turn want to detect possible contamination as quickly as possible.

Earlier research by WUR showed that it is indeed possible to intercept electrophysical signals. For this study, a strawberry plant was infected with thrips. With an electrophysical sensor, the contamination could be detected after only 2 days. This means a significant time saving compared to visual inspection: usually it is only after about 5-6 days that the leaves take on a silvery glow, which can only be seen by a good inspection of the plants.

The new 2-year study focuses on a vegetable crop (tomato) and an ornamental plant (gerbera, petunia or Helianthus) and on three threats: mildew, thrips and a virus. During the first weeks of the research, Vivent's electrophysical sensor measures which signals the crop transmits in a normal state, and passes them on to the underlying software. This is followed by targeted infections with the damage organisms. The idea is that the software learns through artificial intelligence to recognize the specific signals of the crops on the damage organisms.

The research is funded by the Club van 100 of the WUR. The following companies are involved as representatives of this: Koppert Biological Systems, Florensis, Valto, Syngenta Flowers, PlantoSys and Agrifirm.