Plants are as vulnerable to germs as people. These germs can cause disease in plants and negatively impact the agriculture industry.
Grapes are the basis of raisins, jellies, juice and, if you are 21 or older, wine.
The growth of mildew or other germs on grapevines leads to major losses in profits and grape production worldwide.
“Mildew can cause diseases that devastate grapevines,” Kovacs said. “If the mildew’s growth is not controlled, it could make grape cultivation impossible in many areas around the world.”
Finding a solution to the far-reaching agricultural problem could come from an unlikely source: software.
Mapping infections with images
Growth of mildew diseases is not consistent across grape varieties. But why?
Iqbal and Kovacs suspected the answer was in the plants’ genes, if only researchers could find the right ones.
“We wanted to map the location of the genes that determine how resistant grape plants will be to the germs,” Iqbal said.
To make this genetic mapping possible, Iqbal and Kovacs use computer-based imaging. The software, developed by Iqbal and his students in the computer science department, allows them to measure the rate and amount of mildew diseases’ spread on grape leaves.
With these images, they can reliably capture what would and would not be visible to the naked eye.
“The detection tactic allows us to overcome the bias and other limitations that can result from human perception,” Iqbal said. “This can make the base understanding established for future research more accurate than visual findings alone.”
Iqbal and Kovacs recently shared a paper on the subject at the 18th International Conference on Signal Processing and Multimedia Applications.
Fostering pesticide-free prevention
Many farmers currently turn to pesticides to slow or prevent infections on their grape plants.
But pesticides have health risks.
“Pesticides often contain copper and need constant reapplication to plants’ surfaces,” Kovacs said. “These accumulate in the environment over time and can become harmful to people at high concentrations.”
Biologists are exploring one route to building more natural germ resistance: selective breeding of plants.
Different fields, shared interest in growth
Growth is key to advancement in any field.
In bringing together biology and computer science, Kovacs and Iqbal recognize the growth that can carry past their single collaborative study.
“Learning to accurately measure areas on surfaces can apply to many fields outside of plant science,” Kovacs said. “By solving new problems, we can expand the envelope of research capabilities.”