Predicting the onset and severity of maize disease for early protection and management

The appearance of new plant diseases can devastate crops and dramatically lower yields for farmers.  With high-throughput imaging, Dr. Addie Thompson is developing methods to better predict and quantify the impact of tar spot, a new disease in maize for which there are currently few resistant varieties. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research

We will be working to predict onset and quantify severity of a new disease in U.S. maize called tar spot using high-throughput approaches. These include drone-based hyperspectral and LiDAR measurements as well as proximal imaging. In addition to visible black lesions, tar spot causes biochemical changes in the plant and its structure, altering spectral properties and stalk integrity. This leads us to believe that these technologies will prove useful. Once established, our pipelines will be used to identify, validate, and advance resistant maize breeding lines. 

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

Tar spot is a fungal disease that causes black lesions to form on the leaves and decreases yield. Though these lesions are visible by eye, accurately estimating how much of a particular plot in the field is affected can be subjective and time-consuming. We are hoping to develop methods that would allow our measurements to be faster and more accurate, and possibly even help predict when the disease is about to take over a field before it is visually apparent.

We are hoping to develop methods that would allow our measurements to be faster and more accurate, and possibly even help predict when the disease is about to take over a field before it is visually apparent.

Why did you choose this area of research?

We have been working alongside MSU field crops pathologist Martin Chilvers, who is an expert on this disease. Since tar spot is new here, most of the current commercial US varieties are not resistant. We have been screening diverse maize inbred varieties for resistance and have started breeding, but our process could be much more efficient and accurate with advanced imaging technologies that would allow us to screen more individuals and populations throughout each growing season.

How could your Grants4Ag project someday impact #healthforall #hungerfornone? 

All farmers want to protect the yield in which they have so heavily invested their time and resources. Having a new disease devastate a crop is something that can be prevented once we have the right knowledge and technologies, namely new resistant varieties, along with best management practices for things like fungicide application and timing of irrigation. We feel fortunate to be contributing one piece of a larger puzzle in this endeavor.

All farmers want to protect the yield in which they have so heavily invested their time and resources. Having a new disease devastate a crop is something that can be prevented once we have the right knowledge and technologies