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New protein-based biosensor detects potato and tomato crop disease

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a new molecular sensor system that detects harmful diseases in plants and food crops, including potatoes and tomatoes.

Potatoes have become the world’s third major food source. Early detection of late blight disease, which gave rise to the Irish Potato Famine, could help reduce global food insecurity. The disease is a leading cause of potato and tomato crop loss, costing an estimated $6.5 billion in annual damage worldwide.

In a cover story published in The Plant Journal, researchers used genetic engineering methods to produce new potato varieties that produce distinctive proteins. These proteins act as a biological sensor that can be sent to the chloroplasts in the plant’s cells, where photosynthesis occurs.

“In its early stages, it is difficult to identify the disease since you can’t see external signs on the leaf,” says Hebrew University doctoral student Matanel Hipsch, who led the study.

By using sensitive cameras that can pick up signals sent from the sensor, they were able to obtain spatial information about the whole plant. The images helped monitor the plant’s physiological state throughout the development of late blight in the potato.


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