Scientists Trying To Save Avocados From Deadly Fungus Using Dogs And Heat-Sensing Drones

Stare deep into that bowl of guacamole you treasure so much. Look into its green depths and ask yourself this question — “What is the most important thing here?” We all know what it is, and now scientists are trying to save it: Avocados are in danger from a nasty fungus spread by beetles, and heat-sensing drones and their canine friends might be their saviors.

Laurel wilt is a deadly fungus — spread by the invasive ambrosia beetle — that is currently threatening Florida’s avocado crop, leading researchers the hefty task of trying to stop the fungus from bedeviling the trees.

Scientists are launching heat-sensing drones into the air to find stressed trees, reports the Associated Press. Images of the area from the drones are then studied to find potentially sick trees, which is when the dogs go in to check it out and confirm if it’s infected.

“It’s almost like cancer detection,” said one researcher. “Multiple dogs have alerted on (infected) trees that show no signs of infection.”

Even men and women of science have a sense of humor about the importance of avocados to American consumers, dubbing their campaign “#savetheguac.”

Since the Asian beetle first showed up in the U.S in 2002, it’s rolled through the Southeast, often in redbay laurel trees, a cousin to the avocado tree. Once a tree gets sick, it can be dead inside six weeks.

Researchers are now testing ways to save avocados from laurel wilt, partnering with a drone company and a canine detection team. Spotting the disease before it’s too late isn’t easy for farmers. Once they see symptoms of a sick tree, it’s too late for the tree. Catching it before then, burning it and dosing others nearby with fungicide is the only hope.

“This is probably the biggest threat to the Florida avocado that’s ever been seen” a tropical fruit crop specialist at the University of Florida told the AP.

“Florida’s warm climate makes our state a hotbed for invasive species and diseases,” said Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner. “Florida’s avocado industry has a $64 million economic impact in our state, and we will continue to aggressively protect our agriculture industry with cutting-edge research and technology.”

Scientists in #savetheguac campaign employ drones and dogs [Associated Press]