Development of a qPCR Assay to Monitor Pests and Improve Algal Yield in Outdoor Cultivation Ponds
New Mexico Consortium scientists, Alina Corcoran, Ahlem Jebali and Heather Martinez, and New Mexico State University scientist, Stephanie Getto (formerly with the New Mexico Consortium), recently co-authored a new publication in Algal Research titled Development of a field-deployable qPCR assay for real-time pest monitoring in algal cultivation systems.
This project, led by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists Monica Sanchez and Shawn Starkenburg, is output from the Optimizing Selection Pressures and Pest Management to Maximize Algal Biomass Yield (OSPREY) project.
Microalgae use photosynthesis to efficiently convert solar energy into high concentration biomass which can be used in the production of algal biofuels and many other high-value products such as food, feed, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.
This study looks at outdoor cultivation of algae in large, open, outdoor cultivation ponds. However, one of the key barriers to using outdoor ponds is the partial or complete loss of valuable biomass caused by pests. Competitors, which can cause periods of low productivity or even entire loss of the algal crop, include plant consuming pests and pathogens. To realize the full potential of algal biofuels, we must improve the efficiency, reliability, and stability of the algal biomass cultivation process.
What is needed is a rapid, real-time tracking of these pests so that those running the outdoor cultivation ponds can intervene right away and mitigate crop loss. In this paper, the scientists describe the development of a field deployable, low-cost qPCR assay for detecting both known and novel pests of a farmed eukaryotic alga species, Nannochloropsis sp.
The project developed qPCR probes to detect specific pests of interest. It was designed to be deployed at remote field locations and enables low-cost surveillance with a rapid 2 hour turn-around time. Due to frequent sampling, the qPCR probes are able to have early detection of pests and prompts intervention strategies to remedy infected ponds to minimize crop loss.
In doing this study, the qPCR assay was used to successfully detect a known predatory bacterium within the order Bdellovibrionales both in the lab and at a remote field location. The team also assembled the genome of two novel, site-specific pests and successfully designed qPCR probes that differentially detected their presence in two different pond locations.
Ultimately, this qPCR assay has the potential to monitor multiple pests simultaneously and tailor targets to match likely pest infections that differ across geographical locations. This tool will help to mitigate crop loss on a large scale.
To read the entire publication see: Development of a field-deployable qPCR assay for real-time pest monitoring in algal cultivation systems.
Top photo: Stephanie Getto, New Mexico State University researcher, deploying a qPCR tool