ENGINEERING DEVELOPS SYSTEM TO DETECT APPLE DISEASES

"ONE OF THE GOALS OF THE MACRO-DEPARTMENT OF ENGINEERING IS TO IMPLEMENT AN INTERREGIONAL ENVIRONMENT PROMOTING DEVELOPMENT BASED ON APPLIED RESEARCH"



November 17, 2016

An early risk of incidence prediction system for Porthole disease in apples of the Cripps Pink variety will be developed by our University through a project from the Macro-Department of Engineering, to address a problem affecting the exports of this fruit.
 
 
The above-mentioned initiative obtained financing for 150 million pesos (US$ 230 000, approx.), which were granted by the Fund to Promote Scientific and Technological Development (Fondef) in the framework of the “IDeA” contest, Applied Science chapter.
 
Apple growing is one of the main economic activities of the Maule Region, and in 2013 it had a total of 29 920 hectares of the red fruit, of which 18 863 hectares (63%) were in the region. Of these, the Cripps Pink variety has experienced a steady growth and a planned production of over 72 000 tons, half of which are shipped to Europe.
 
 
This variety has the virtue of being a late harvest kind and by storing it in cold chambers between 30 and 150 days it extends the post harvest time to 150 days and, therefore, the arrival to international markets in September or October, with the possibility of obtaining higher prices.
 
However, the variety is exposed to factors that reduce its productivity and performance, one of which is the aforementioned disease, caused by the Neofabraea alba fungus, which affects apples by circular necrotic lesions that advance toward the interior of the fruit, making the pulp brown, but with no signs of exterior deterioration.
 
 
According to Jose Reyes, academic from the Bioinformatics Unit of the Department of Engineering and director of the R&T node of the Macro-Department of Engineering, "the problem is that this disease occurs prior to harvest and its symptoms are only perceived during the storing period of one to five months, with a very variable percentage of fruit that is affected each year in different areas, as it is also unpredictable the time in which the symptoms of the disease appear".
 
 Late Detection
 
As no visible symptoms are seen in apples, it becomes more difficult the early detection of the disease, so that producers and exporters of the Cripps Pink variety must make alternative decisions, such as reducing the export markets and the storing periods that are shorter than the onset of symptoms. This involves selling it between May and June, months where the sale prices are lower.

In addition, when the apples arrive at destination already infected with the aforementioned disease, they are returned, which generates significant economic losses for the Chilean industry. In the face of this reality, Professor Jose Antonio Reyes presented a project to find a solution to the problem through the development of a system of early prediction of risk of incidence of Porthole in apples of the Cripps Pink variety.
 
 
In this context, the dean of the Department of Engineering of the University of Talca, Claudio Tenreiro, explained that "one of the goals of the Macro-Department of Engineering is to implement an interregional environment to promote development, based on applied research driving the transfer of technologies that solve problems that affect the regional competitiveness, in this case of export apples, which is very relevant to improve decision-making in the sector, and thus preventing the loss of production".

The project will be implemented through artificial intelligence methods and techniques to infer complex relationships between the climatic variables that can lead to the appearance of the fungus.
 
In addition, the system will predict the incidence of infection in a particular season, focusing on 150 days of storage of apples in cold chambers, by way of enhancing that shipments are carried out as late as possible, when it reaches a higher sale price. It is also is aimed at predict the extent of the disease in different storage times, and it will infer the kinetics of the ODB symptoms appearance in the infected fruit, as well.
 
 Various Regions
 
I
n this regard, Professor Reyes commented that one of the main ideas of this initiative, is to be able to study what happens in various regions of the country, mainly in the O'Higgins to Araucanía Regions, where they produce this type of apples. "This is because the variability of incidence of the disease could be associated to various climatic and geographical conditions across the country, then on the basis of these variables we want to determine what is happening, to give a practical solution," he explained.
 
 
This project, which will start in the 2017 season, has a duration of two years and will generate a validated prototype, so that in a second stage it can be scaled to start its marketing and subsequent transfer of results. In addition to the research to be done, we count with the support of the Unifrutti Traders Ltda. company, one of the main exporters of fruits in the country.
 
It should be noted that the Cripps Pink, Fuji and Fuji Raku-Raku varieties linked to this project use a total of 4 975 hectares in the Maule Region, which transforms the Region in the main producer and exporter of pomes in the country, and where this study will be carried out as a prototype.



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