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DiSTAP IRG research highlights

Advancing Agritech for Food Security and a Sustainable Future

In a world where we're grappling with climate change, a growing global population, and limited resources, the agriculture industry is under increasing pressure to adopt more sustainable and precision farming practices in response to food security concerns.


At SMART, our team of DiSTAP researchers have made significant strides in addressing food security challenges through innovative research and technology advancements.


With our unwavering dedication to groundbreaking research and the continuous development of state-of-the-art technologies, DiSTAP has solidified its position as a significant player in the agriculture and agri-food precision sector. The year 2023 has seen several achievements that have driven us closer to addressing vital concerns related to food security, sustainability, and global nutrition.


One of the key aspects of a sustainable agricultural industry is developing efficient systems for delivering micronutrients, pesticides, and antibiotics. These systems are crucial for achieving high agricultural productivity, producing top-quality crops, and minimising resource wastage - all key to the ongoing challenge of boosting food security.


To address this challenge, the DiSTAP IRG introduced an innovative method using microneedles for delivering drugs to plants. This groundbreaking technique allows for the precise delivery of agrochemicals to specific plant tissues for research purposes and can potentially enhance crop quality and disease management in precision agriculture.


In a live interview with CNA earlier this year, Dr Han Yangyang, SMART DiSTAP Postdoctoral Associate, and Dr Daisuke Urano, TLL (Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory) Principal Investigator and National University of Singapore (NUS) Adjunct Assistant Professor, shared more about how the microneedles work, the environmental sustainability benefits they offer and their suitability for use in urban farms in Singapore.


Dr Daisuke and Dr Yangyang interview with CNA


Silk microneedles, which were originally used for medical applications, have now been adapted for efficient drug delivery to plants. This breakthrough is a game-changer for plant science research and precision farming, significantly improving crop quality and disease management. Even better, this new method is minimally invasive and aligns with sustainable farming practices supporting sustainability and food security. The exciting development highlights our innovative approach to enhancing plant health and crop yield through precision nutrient and pesticide delivery. Furthermore, this cutting-edge technology has the potential to revolutionise agriculture by ensuring efficient and targeted treatment for crops.


The team is currently dedicated to advancing the technique and microneedle design, aiming to transform it into a scalable model for production and commercialisation while proactively exploring potential applications for societal impact.



Dr Mervin Chunyi Ang, Associate Scientific Director at SMART's DiSTAP, determining GA levels in plant


Advancing plant stress monitoring, the DiSTAP team’s groundbreaking achievements extend to developing ultra-modern nanosensors that can detect and distinguish GAs, marking a significant step forward in our understanding of how plants work.


One of the most exciting applications of these nanosensors is their potential to revolutionise the way we study GA dynamics within living plants when they are exposed to salinity stress, even in the early stages of growth. This capability opens up exciting possibilities for early intervention in agriculture. By detecting stress ahead of time, these nanosensors give farmers a powerful tool to enhance their crop management and get the most out of their harvests using high-tech precision farming methods.


This non-invasive approach has the potential to revolutionise how we understand and interact with plants, reducing the need for intrusive sampling and ensuring minimal disruption to plant health. Moving forward, we envision a future where these nanosensors can be seamlessly integrated with low-cost electronics, portable optodes, or microneedle interfaces for industrial applications. Such integration holds the promise of transforming how the agriculture industry screens for and mitigates plant stress in food crops, potentially leading to significant improvements in growth and yield.


Advancing Raman Spectroscopy and AI Integration for Smart Farming

Raman spectroscopy is a powerful, non-destructive technique for molecular identification that has already shown utility as a powerful technological tool in the agriculture and agritech space. With the rising ubiquity of AI and its use cases, Raman spectroscopy can now be integrated with AI to offer rapid and precise insights into plant health, nutrient composition, and the detection of early-stage diseases. For urban farming, where monitoring and quick decision-making are essential due to spatial constraints and the need for optimal yields, this technology becomes invaluable.


AI-enhanced Raman spectroscopy can analyse the chemical compositions of plants in real-time, allowing urban farmers to optimise nutrient input, monitor growth conditions, and ensure plants are in their healthiest state. Furthermore, with the capability to detect issues at the molecular level, preemptive measures can be taken before visible symptoms even manifest. This synergistic combination not only promises improved yields but also champions sustainable farming practices by reducing the overuse of resources and chemicals. As Singapore and other cities aim to become more self-sufficient in food production, leveraging advanced tools like AI-integrated Raman spectroscopy will be instrumental in realising the full potential of agritech.


However, significant challenges remain, including ensuring the ethical use of AI in agriculture, setup costs for advanced Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) infrastructure, and farmer training. However, ongoing research and collaboration at institutions like DiSTAP fuels optimism for a bright future for smart farming. DiSTAP’s pioneering work in the field of nanotechnology and agricultural precision continues to drive innovation in the industry, facilitating and supporting the optimisation of resource use and ensuring the sustainability of agriculture in an ever-changing world.


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With our strong dedication, innovative spirit, and commitment to using technology to improve agriculture in Singapore and around the globe, we're firmly committed to helping build a future where food security is a reality for everyone.



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