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Chris Whitehouse, William Schneider and Elena Postnikova use the TIGER technology to diagnose plant disease. Link to photo information
U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases microbiologist Chris Whitehouse (left) and ARS plant pathologists William Schneider (center) and Elena Postnikova use the novel robotic diagnostic technology known as TIGER to diagnose plant diseases. Click the image for more information about it.

Scientists Leverage New Tool to Diagnose Plant Diseases

By Jan Suszkiw
November 3, 2006

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant pathologist William Schneider has used, or is familiar with, just about every kind of method of identifying organisms that cause plant diseases, from light microscopes to so-called genetic fingerprinting.

Each has its place in the field of disease diagnostics. But what's really excited Schneider is a procedure called TIGER, short for "Triangulation Identification for Genetic Evaluation of Risks."

According to Schneider, with the ARS Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research Unit in Fort Detrick, Md., TIGER has the potential to identify virtually every kind of microbe that may be present in a given sample—and to do so in a matter of minutes.

Other methods, including those that use polymerase chain reaction (PCR)—best known for its role in genetic fingerprinting—take hours, days or weeks. And even then, such methods typically detect only up to a few dozen microbes at a time.

Speed coupled with accuracy, sensitivity and ease of use promise to make TIGER a frontline tool in detecting new, as-yet-undescribed pathogens, or exotic ones that originate outside the United States, like citrus greening, citrus canker and soybean rust.

Schneider's "neighbors" at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick were among the first there to use TIGER as part of the military lab's mission to detect, diagnose and counter human pathogens, such as those encountered by deployed troops. Last summer, Schneider began collaborating with Chris Whitehouse of USAMRIID's Diagnostic Systems Division to test and build TIGER's capacity to identify crop pathogens.

Along with ARS postdoctoral researcher Elena Postnikova, Schneider and Whitehouse are conducting research on three fronts, starting with 14 genera of plant disease bacteria. Of particular interest is verifying TIGER's use of generalized primers as a sort of one-size-fits-all "homing beacon" to distinguish bacteria from other microbes in a sample, such as leaf tissue.

Read more about the research in the November 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.