One more step needed for virus sensor market introduction

After a recent breakthrough, it seems only a matter of time before growers have a handy virus sensor that offers quick insight into the presence of pathogenic viruses in their water systems. "We are just one hurdle away from a world first," says project leader André van der Wurff of Normac Groen Agro Control. Together with Kees Koopal of Sendot Research, he gives an update on the bold project, whose finishing line is in sight, at Glastuinbouw Waterproof.

Although a virus sensor in itself is not unique, existing devices are far too large and costly to consider practical use at horticultural locations at all. Therefore, the "virus sensor development" project can certainly be called bold.

Virus sensor

Sensor functions
"Convenient and affordable sensors for daily use at horticultural locations simply do not exist," says Van der Wurff. "While there is a great need for them worldwide, as water-borne viruses are a growing problem in professional horticulture and limit opportunities to recirculate water. Glastuinbouw Nederland and Plantum recognized this and made this complex project possible. We are very pleased to have cleared another crucial hurdle. The virus sensor has been realized and is functioning. That in itself is a world first. For repeated real-world use, we now need to overcome one more hurdle: cleaning the detector."

Active and inactive virulent material
The project leader tells his story together with Kees Koopal, R&D manager within sensor maker Sendot Research. "It took blood, sweat, and tears to translate the large, existing laboratory concept into a handy, functioning practical instrument that provides near real-time clarity," Koopal says. "For the first time, this uses fiber optics, in which our company specializes."

Virus detection takes place by loading the detector with antibodies and bringing it into contact with water in which there may be virulent material. These bind to the antibodies and, with free secondary antibodies present, have been treated with a fluorescent substance. This makes them 'readable' to the optical sensor. What is special is that the sensor can distinguish between active (strongly bound) and inactive (weakly bound) virulent material. This distinction is essential, as explained in previous publications on Glastuinbouw Waterproof.

One more hurdle to clear
"Based on this principle, the sensor can detect cucumber green mottle mosaic virus (CGMMV), PlamV, and Tulip virus-X with specific antibodies," Van der Wurff continues. "What still needs to be developed is a regeneration method. That is a flushing method that allows us to discharge the detector so that it is clean and ready for the next measurement. That requires more than a container of water, so there is still some work ahead."

Follow-up project requested
As the original project is now complete, the project group - again with support from Plantum and Glastuinbouw Nederland - has applied to the Top Sector for a follow-up project. Given the enthusiastic response from the organizations and because of the huge potential of a handy virus sensor for global horticulture and efficient water use, Koopal and Van der Wurff are hopeful for a green light.

"By the end of this year, we will know whether we can go ahead," the Sendot researcher concludes. "Then we could pick up the thread in spring '24."

Source: Glastuinbouw Waterproof

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