Digital plant doctor diagnoses plant problems

A picture may be worth more than a thousand words.

University of Florida specialists are using a new system that uses digital cameras and the World Wide Web to send photographs of insects and diseased plants from the field to the lab for rapid diagnosis and identification.

Researchers, extension agents and software developers with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences developed the Distance Diagnostics and Identification System, or DDIS, to speed up identification of plant and animal physiological disorders. Until now, reliable diagnosis meant mailing plant material to UF labs, which often caused costly delays.

"Basically, what we're doing is crunching down to zero all the time needed to communicate with each other," said Fedro Zazueta, director of information technologies for UF. "The benefits will reach from consumers and homeowners all the way to commercial growers, where diseases can cost tens of thousands of dollars."

According to UF software developer Jiannong Xin, the DDIS also is a perfect example of university research responding to the concerns of Florida residents.

"While many projects are initiated by software developers, this one was initiated by county extension agents who came to us with what they needed," said Xin.

In fact, the development of the DDIS started with a strange plant in a Monticello homeowner's backyard.

When Pat Murphy had an allergic reaction to some vines he was trimming, he called Jefferson County Extension Director Larry Halsey to verify they were indeed what was causing him to swell up.

Unable to find an answer in any of Florida's poisonous plant guides, Halsey snapped some digital photos of the plant, loaded them onto his computer, and e-mailed them as attachments to specialists in the herbarium at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History.

When, only 40 minutes later, he got a positive identification back from botanist Kent Perkins, Halsey knew he was onto somethin

Contact: Fedro Zazueta
University of Florida

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