When farmers find sickly plants in their crops, it’s important that they find out which malady is responsible, as quickly as possible. New microneedle technology could help, paving the way for a handheld device that would provide the answer within minutes, right in the field.
In cases where it’s not immediately obvious which illness is afflicting a plant, samples taken from that plant are often analyzed to see which disease-causing organism’s DNA is present. Before that DNA can be identified, though, it first has to be isolated from the sample material, typically via a multi-step process known as CTAB (cetyltrimethylammonium bromide) extraction. Performed in a lab, this involves grinding plant tissue, adding organic solvents, and placing the mixture in a centrifuge – it also takes three to four hours to carry out.
In an effort to develop a quicker, easier alternative, scientists at North Carolina State University created a postage stamp-sized patch made from an inexpensive polymer, which is covered on one side with hundreds of tiny needles.