A ‘blood test’ for potatoes

Punching a sample for testing.A simple blood test at a medical laboratory can tell your doctor a lot about your health. Human blood tests were the inspiration for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) researcher Dr. Helen Tai to consider a test for nitrogen levels in potatoes. She wondered if a test could be developed that would tell potato growers if the amount of nitrogen in their plants is in the right range for a “healthy” plant. She took the idea to Dr. Bernie Zebarth, a soil scientist at AAFC, and the two Fredericton researchers began a collaboration that has resulted in a test. Now, they just have to make it accessible for plant “doctors.” The researchers developed what may turn out to be a smarter way of determining nitrogen levels in a plant that improves upon petiole analysis. They believe the test could be used to measure a number of plant stresses, from nitrogen deficiency to drought stress to potassium and phosphate shortages. Zebarth believes they might have an on-farm test perfected in about five years. More