NASA Spots Grape Disease Early, From the Sky

Innovation could be a huge benefit to vineyards
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2023 2:20 PM CDT
NASA Spots Grape Disease Early, From the Sky
Grapes on the vine.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Up to 30% of global grape harvests fall prey to pathogens including bacteria, mold, and viruses each year. Now, the Sacramento Bee reports that there's hope on the horizon: Researchers using tech from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab detected early signs of a grape disease before it could be spotted by the naked eye. The technique—described in a NASA/JPL news release—pinpointed a particular virus that costs the US grape industry up to $3 billion yearly. In a paper, researchers described using NASA's special AVIRIS-NG camera installed in an airplane to detect the Grapevine Leafroll Virus in California grapes via spectrometry, which parses light into separate wavelengths.

Researchers compared camera findings with what was found on the ground and determined that healthy grapes from 2020 that showed signs of virus the following year may have been sick the whole time. Using machine learning, researchers trained their system to spot differences between healthy and sick vines. The computer-trained camera had an 87% success rate at spotting hidden virus and was successful catching 85% of vines that were already visibly sick. The AVIRIS-NG camera was able to suss out the previously obscured changes in the grape vines. According to the study abstract, this marks a major step forward, pointing to the possibility of using satellite surveillance for large vineyards in the near future.

"Sick plants may not exhibit outward symptoms right away, making early detection the greatest challenge facing growers," said study senior author Katie Gold of Cornell University in the NASA release. Fernando Galvan, a doctoral candidate and co-author of an additional study that delved into the machine learning element of training for virus detection, said that "these are exciting times for remote sensing and plant disease detection," adding that "scalable solutions can help growers make data-driven, sustainable crop management decisions." Additionally, these advances could mean more—and perhaps more affordable—wine for everyone. (More scientific study stories.)

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