AWC - Funded Research

Development of a multiplex RT-immunoPCR assay and biosensor for the early detection of airborne fungal spores in cereal crops

AWC Contribution: $45,000


This project aims to develop a rapid and sensitive method to identify and quantify multiple disease-causing airborne fungal spores in producers’ fields. The method uses antibody-coated microspheres coupled with PCR amplification, to take advantage of antibodies specificity and PCR amplification power. The antibody-microsphere technology is amenable to multiplexing and field testing, providing an additional tool for the timely control of pathogenic fungi in crops.


To develop a multiplex real-time immuno-PCR assay that can detect specifically and sensibly spores from three different fungal pathogens of wheat. Specific objectives:

  1. To immunize rabbits and produce sera specific for spores from 3 fungal pathogens of cereals for the development of a highly sensitive multiplex immunoassay.
  2. To investigate and demonstrate the potential of antibody-based reagents combined with microsphere and PCR technologies for field biosensor development.
  3. To conduct confocal microscopy with spores and plant tissues to understand disease development in plants.

Benefit to producers:

Fungal diseases of wheat including stripe rust, tan spot and Fusarium head blight are major threats to cereal production. For crop growers, there is a clear economic benefit in knowing early when airborne fungal spores of important plant pathogens arise, providing timely knowledge of the risk of disease infestation and necessity to use pesticides, in order to reduce crop losses and prevent multiple disease cycles. Early prevention of disease infestation means that fewer pesticide applications are required to control the disease, fewer spores will further disseminate the disease (reduced airborne threat) and the environmental risks related to pesticide use are reduced.
A highly sensitive and reliable assay and field biosensor would help cereal producers know when airborne spores of fungal pathogens represent a threat and require disease management before the onset of disease symptoms. This is critical to cereal production from an economic perspective (crop losses), but also provides excellent social and environmental support for cereal production by reducing pesticide use and reducing the environmental impacts of disease control. As a large number of crop seeds are treated with fungicides, preventing further use of fungicides on the  crops themselves later in the season reduces the potential for water (groundwater and surface water) contamination by pesticides.


Claudia is a research scientist in environmental and immunochemistry with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge, Alberta since 2005.  Her main scientific interests consist in environmental immunochemistry, water quality and trace residue analysis of agricultural contaminants including pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and hormones. The development of pesticide mitigation strategies such as on-farm pesticide rinsate biobeds to protect water quality is also a strong component of her research program. Claudia is from Quebec City.  She obtained her B.Sc. in Biology and Agronomy from Université Laval in Québec, her M.Sc. in Immunochemistry from the University of Guelph, and her Ph.D in Antibody engineering from the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa.  Claudia also worked in Italy and Czech Republic.