Disease Detection Tools with Syama Chatterton, Ph.D.
Dr. Syama Chatterton is a research scientist with Agriculture and AgriFood Canada in Lethbridge, Alberta. For the past 10 years, Dr. Chatterton’s work has focused on soilborne diseases and root rot pathogens of pulses. Today’s episode focuses on the tools Dr. Chatterton and her colleagues are developing to more accurately and efficiently test for disease presence in soils for pathogens like aphanomyces and fusarium. The idea behind these tools they are developing is to lower the risk for farmers, make it easier to get information about this disease presence, and allow them to make more data-driven decisions about what to plant and when.
“If you grow a pea or lentil crop, and then you notice that you have a root rot issue in your field one year, our recommendation now is to stay out of that field for at least six to eight years….So that's why we're trying to develop some tools so that producers can test their soils, get an idea of what pathogens are in their soils, the quantity of pathogens in their soils, and then know whether its safe to plant peas or lentils again.” - Dr. Syama Chatterton
With a small sample, they are able to identify whether or not that targeted disease, such as the “root rot complex,” is present in a farmer’s soil. So essentially they are counting the detectable DNA to quantify the oospores of that pathogen in the soil. The hope is that this will lead to the ability to quantify the amount of disease presence in a soil in a timely manner, and start to establish thresholds to help a farmer determine when they should and should not plant. Ultimately, the hope is that farmers, when armed with the data from these tools, will be able to manage these diseases in a way that allows them to keep pulses in a regular rotation without proliferating the presence of these pathogens over time.
“If you're considering planting peas in that field and you want to know, am I going to be at a risk for root rot? Then you can go on and collect samples in the spring prior to planting.” - Dr. Syama Chatterton
With something like this that is able to use such a small soil sample, the sampling technique is extremely important to make sure the results are representative and actionable. At present, the protocol includes sampling at 10 sites and testing each of them separately to look for pathogens. Dr. Chatterton highlights that the results are only as valuable as the samples that have been collected. Low spots, water tracks or areas of decreased yield are the best places to focus your sampling. Identifying different species of pathogens and developing threshold values for producers to know how to use the results is an ongoing process.