Innovative manufacturing of a cereal rust inoculation device
Urediniospores of rust fungi can be applied to cereal plants in several ways. Depending on the objective and available infrastructure, plants can be inoculated with a suspension of spores in either water, light mineral oil (e.g. Soltrol 130®) or engineered fluid (e.g. Novec 7100®). Alternatively, dry spores can be allowed to settle on plant surfaces by dusting or directly applied with a spatula or small brush. Several rust laboratories employ a system where a spore-oil suspension, contained in a gelatin capsule, is sprayed onto seedling leaves by means of a dedicated atomizer connected to an air pressure source. Although this approach is easy to use and highly efficient, the devices are not commercially available in South Africa. Locally, these inoculation appliances need to be manufactured by a conventional milling process that requires a specialized workshop and skilled personnel. This subtractive process is labour intensive and greatly prohibitive in terms of costs. Using a process called Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as "3D printing", the body of an inoculator was digitally designed and then laser sintered in nylon. Loose powder was removed from flow channels by compressed air. A copper tube fitted afterwards connected the nylon body with the spore suspension in the capsule. Replicated inoculation tests of wheat seedlings with urediniospore bulks or single pustule collections of Puccinia triticina and P. graminis f. sp. tritici resulted in consistent levels of rust severity and infection frequency. Cleaning of inoculators in acetone for 1 min followed by a 1 h heat treatment at 60°C produced no contaminant infection in follow-up tests. The design has been registered in South Africa, the USA and Europe.