Q1. Does the analysis and results give information about the relative abundance of the microorganisms in the soil?
The SporSenZ sensors only detect fungi/oomycetes that are active and that are in high concentrations at the time of sampling. This means that the fungi/oomycetes that have been detected by our analysis have outcompeted other microorganisms in the soil. If more than one sensor is placed in the same field, then the results can give you an indication of the relative abundance of the microorganisms in the soil of that field. However, if only one sensor is placed in a field, then the results will tell you what microorganisms are dominant in that area of the field at the time of sampling.
Q2. What does the colour coding in the analysis mean and how should the results be interpreted?
The colour key of the microorganisms that are listed in the report is: known pathogens of the crop of interest; pathogens, however not reported to cause disease in crop of interest; beneficial microorganisms or known bio-control products; common soil microorganisms or unknown activity in the crop. The information and comments that are provided in the report about these microorganisms have been collected from scientific sources.
We recommend that you consider the ‘known pathogens of the crop of interest’ as hazards and if possible, we would suggest considering remedial action against these, or close monitoring of the crops. The group ‘pathogens, however not yet known to cause disease in crop of interest’ should be monitored, as this definition considers pathogens of related crops. Furthermore, it is possible that the microorganism has not yet been defined as a pathogen for the crop of interest within the literature, even though it has the potential to cause disease in the crop. The group ‘beneficial microorganisms or known bio-control products’ include the good guys that you want to nourish and increase in concentration. These fungi/oomycetes include mycoparasitic fungi (which attack and kill other fungi), mycorrhizal fungi, and fungi whose presence is known to have a beneficial impact on plants. Finally, the group ‘common soil microorganisms or unknown activity in the crop’include fungi/oomycetes whose effect on crops has not been broadly studied and also fungi that are commonly identified in soil samples.
Q3. Does the presence of a pathogen highlighted in red imply that the crop is diseased/will be infected?
A pathogen highlighted in red has a high risk of infecting the crop. The detection of a pathogen in our analysis implies that it is actively growing in high concentrations and it has outcompeted other fungi/oomycetes in the soil. However, it is not guaranteed that it will cause disease in the crops. The occurrence of disease in a crop is influenced by many factors, similar to us human beings. For instance, the occurrence of disease is heavily influenced by the state of the crop, i.e. if the crop is stressed or weakened then it has a higher chance of developing disease. Also, some of the pathogens only affect the crop at certain stages in the crop cycle, therefore, even though they are considered pathogens of the crop, they may not be a significant/imminent risk at the time of sampling. Therefore, in summary, although pathogens highlighted in red should be treated as ‘high risk’, there are multiple factors that influence whether or not the pathogen will cause disease.
Q4. What actions should be taken to eliminate a disease that has been highlighted in the report? Does FungiAlert help plan crop protection strategies?
FungiAlert can help to evaluate the efficacy of crop protection strategies with additional sensor tests, see Q5. However, at FungiAlert, we are scientific experts in microbiology, molecular biology and of genetic techniques for disease identification. We are not agronomists and cannot advise you on what disease mitigation strategies to take. We can however provide you with information about published research of disease tolerance or susceptibility to disease control products. However, this is not included in the terms and conditions and will incur an additional consultancy fee if extended research is requested.
Q5. How can FungiAlert help to find out if a treatment against a disease has been effective?
Our team can design a proposal for you to help you understand how well your crop protection strategies are working. It is important to first analyse diseased plant material to make sure that the disease-causing agent is correctly identified (contact us for a quote). In order to study the efficacy of a treatment, the starting point of the soil health will be analysed, and after the treatment has been applied, the soil health will be tested again. This allows you to understand the impact of the treatment on the microbial community.
Q6. Have the microorganisms listed in the report being detected in the UK before?
If it is not written in the report, and you wish to find out more about it, we suggest that you look at CABI’s database, which is available on their website for free (https://www.cabi.org).
Q7. A pathogen has been detected which is known to cause disease in the crop in another country, but not in the UK. Should this be a concern? Does this need to be reported to DEFRA?
Yes, even pathogens which have not yet been reported to cause disease in the UK should be considered as a potential threat. The pathogen may not have been detected before in the UK due to lack of research on this particular crop in the UK. However, if extensive research has been carried out for this crop in the UK, then it could be that this pathogen had not yet been identified due to a lack of available sampling tools (like FungiAlert’s SporSenZ sensors), or that this is an emerging threat, which is relatively new to the UK. Only microorganisms that qualify as restricted by DEFRA should be reported to DEFRA. It is your responsibility as a grower to report any restricted pathogens to DEFRA.
Q8. The analysis has deemed that the field is healthy and there is no pathogen present, does this mean that the crop does not need any fungicides?
FungiAlert cannot advise you about what crop protection strategies to take. However, we strongly advise you to keep monitoring the field with the SporSenZ sensors, as there may be disease risks that come at a later stage of the crop. Also, generally, pathogens become infectious when the right weather conditions for that pathogen occur. Therefore, if at the point of sampling the field was free of diseases, it does not imply that the field will remain free of disease permanently.
Q9. I was expecting to find a particular pathogen in the field, but didn’t. Why could this be
Our analysis only detects the fungi/oomycetes that are in high concentration and actively growing at the sampling point. There is a possibility that at the time of sampling that pathogen was not actively growing, hence, it won’t be detected by our sensors. It is recommended to keep sampling at critical points of the crop cycle to make sure that the pathogen is detected when it becomes active and infectious.
Also, generally, the disease is defined by the symptoms observed in the crop. There are different pathogens that can cause the same symptoms in a crop, and the disease-causing agent may have been miss-identified in the past, meaning it is possible that the same disease can be caused by different pathogenic species. However, FungiAlert offers the opportunity to test infected plant material in order to ensure that the causing agent of the disease is correctly identified.
Q10. How can the soil biology be improved?
Some conventional fungicide applications can reduce the presence of beneficial fungi in the soil, helping plant pathogens to build up in concentration. Similar to our guts, these beneficial fungi displace pathogenic ones, therefore, the scientific community advise to carry out treatments that build up natural occurring microorganisms. There are different ways to do this, for instance, by applying biological controls or biostimulants that are formulated with fungi (i.e. trichoderma) or mycorrhizal agents. We recommend that you speak with a technical expert who can advise you about the best strategies of doing this for your growing system. FungiAlert can assist you in evaluating the best methods for improving the soil biology, see Q5.
Q11. What are the next steps?
If remedial action has been taken to treat potential disease risks, further analysis can be carried out to investigate the efficacy of the treatments. Furthermore, FungiAlert also offers analysis from plant material if you wish to analyse infected material.
If no disease risks were found, we recommend monitoring the soil biology at critical times of the crop cycle to ensure that the soil remains healthy.
FungiAlert’s technology has many use-cases. Please contact us if you wish to use the sensors for the following:
- We offer soil-health screening, either before planting or shortly after sowing – this alerts users to potential disease threats, and can help rotational decisions.
- We offer seasonal disease monitoring
- We offer end of season surveillance – this helps users decide the best harvest time, or to decide what fields to overwinter, etc.