Multispectral and thermal images taken by cameras on unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs) are helping researchers to monitor the resistance of maize to
A new study from researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) can reduce challenges associated with plant disease assessment in the field. By deploying cameras mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that capture image information from non-visible sections of the electromagnetic spectrum, the interdisciplinary team demonstrated the effectiveness of remote sensing technologies in maize disease phenotyping.
“Plant disease resistance assessment in the field is
becoming difficult because the breeders’ trials are becoming larger, the trials
have to be conducted in multiple locations, and because sometimes there is a
lack of highly trained personnel who can evaluate the diseases,” said Francelino
Rodrigues, CIMMYT Precision Agriculture Specialist and co-lead author of the
study. “In addition, the disease notes taken in the field by a human eye can
vary from person to person depending on the persons’ experience.”
Charles Mutimaamba, Chief Research Officer and Maize Breeder at the CBI, pauses for a photo with the Skywalker in a field.
Though its name implies science fiction, Skywalker’s results have been incredibly real. A small, unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with remote sensing devices, Skywalker flies over maize fields collecting images and data. It is able to measure several hundred plots in one take. Spectral reflectance and thermal imagery cameras on its wings allow scientists to conduct non-destructive screening of plant physiological properties such as crop growth and water use, at enough resolution to obtain information at plot level.
To accelerate the breeding cycle and continually develop the improved wheat varieties needed to meet global needs, novel approaches are needed to extend conventional selection methods, said Dr. Jesse Poland, an assistant professor at Kansas State University and director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Applied Wheat Genomics, in his presentation on “Genomic Selection and Precision Phenotyping” at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security.
However, each new technology can only be effective in combination with others, meaning that the disciplines of genetics, physiology, engineering and bioinformatics must come together in order to advance on the fundamental concepts of breeding established by Dr. Norman Borlaug more than 50 years ago.
Scientists have made revolutionary advances in their ability to identify genes associated with traits such as drought tolerance or yield in the laboratory, but are still held back by the challenge of observing how these genes express themselves in a complex real-world environment, a practice known as phenotyping.