Individual kernels of wheat and barley can be quickly evaluated for resistance to a damaging scab disease with the use of near infrared light technology. Engineer Floyd Dowell with USDA's ARS Center for Grain and Animal Health Research in Manhattan, Kansas explains that NIR light is partially absorbed by the kernels creating a type of fingerprint scientists can use to detect fusarium head blight, also known as scab, or its related mycotoxin called deoxynivalenol in single kernels of wheat or barley. Scab is a fungus that causes yield losses in wheat and barley. The ability to detect the fungus or the toxin it produces in single kernels of wheat will help breeders rapidly and objectively evaluate new wheat lines and select for resistance to the fungus or its toxin.
Researchers have also measured NIR absorption values of pure deoxynivalenol and kernels with and without the toxin or fungus. This information was used to improve near-infrared calibrations used to sort single kernels based on scab infection levels.
Also available to producers are several online tools to keep growers apprised of the latest scab threats. A Web site known as "Scab Smart" provides a quick guide to help growers predict disease risk throughout the growing season, select the right fungicides and choose resistant varieties of wheat and barley to minimize the threat of an outbreak. Growers, millers and suppliers can also sign up to receive cell phone or e-mail alerts that provide weekly updates on the likelihood of scab in their areas. The URL for Scab Smart is www.ag.ndsu.edu/scabsmart.