Anne-Katrin Mahlein is a trained phytopathologist and studied agriculture at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität Bonn, Germany. Since 2017, she is head of the Institute of Sugar Beet Research (IfZ) Göttingen, Germany. She studies plant-pathogen interactions and ways to visualize complex reactions going on inside plants, with optical sensors and digital technologies.
At the IfZ, she and her team are responsible for developing innovative sugar beet cultivation practices. This considers all aspects of sugar beet and table sugar production, like yield and quality forming, and plant diseases and protection. For plant phenotyping, they develop and use modern machines, sensors, robots, analyzing tools, field, and laboratory studies. She is currently involved in the Cluster of Excellence ‘PhenoRob’ whereby she and her team lead the digital experimental field ‘Farmerspace’.
Substantial progress in research has been achieved in the last 15 years for detecting, monitoring, and managing plant diseases. This includes the use of optical sensors, artificial intelligence, IoT sensor networks, and autonomous platforms, which are leading to new approaches in the context of precision agriculture. Today, sensors for the detection of plant diseases are implemented across scales from single leaf level to field level. With the advances in digital technologies, the science of disease detection and measurement enters a new era with promising new concepts, as phytopathometry is no longer the sole realm of visual expert assessment by an individual. Besides, there are still several challenges to address: accuracy, specificity and earliness of disease detection need to be further improved, and data-driven artificial intelligence will play a key role. Furthermore, knowledge transfer to agricultural practice and extension is of particular importance, to integrate new and innovative approaches in integrated pest management strategies. There is a clear need for improved interdisciplinary research, knowledge transfer and education in the use of digital technologies for plant disease management.