Seed World

New Way to “Sniff Out” Plant Disease

XTB Laboratories, a startup from the University of California, Davis, created a tool that “sniffs out” plant disease before it can be seen.

This would allow companies and farmers to identify diseased plants and trees and remove them before they blight the whole field or orchard, says Cristina Davis, co-founder and chief science advisor of XTB Laboratories.

She explains that diseased plants emit odors unique to each disease, and XTB’s technology analyzes samples of air near the plants to detect plant disease.

It’s a product that can be applied today to California’s citrus orchards, and would give farmers a heads up on the dreaded citrus greening disease that damaged Florida’s orange crops in years past.

“The first cases of citrus greening are just showing up in California,” Davis says. “It gives farmers an edge that wasn’t available in Florida where 30 percent of their citrus crops has been lost.”

This technology can detect a broad rand of plant diseases across multiple crops.

XTB Laboratories won the the Larta Institute’s “Ideas, energized” prize at the Ag Innovation Showcase this year in St. Louis, Missouri.

“The value for XTB is that they are building a library of disease ‘odor profiles,'” says Claire Kinlaw, director of Larta Institute’s ag practice. “The hardware for the system is available, but the algorithm they wrote, alongside their library of plant disease identifiers was impressive.”

More than 20 companies competed for the award. Companies were judged on the novelty of their innovation, commercial potential, potential to disrupt the status quo, and showmanship.