Grand Prize Winner: Dr. Ryan Perroy

For the submission: Clipping the Light: multispectral/thermal/hyperspectral sensors 

COURTESY DANNY DUDA / UH HILO  Ryan Perroy, an associate professor at UH Hilo, is the winner of the Ohia Challenge. Perroy, center, is standing next to Stanton Enomoto of the Department of the Interior’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, left, and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park ecologist David Benitez.


Ryan Perroy, an associate professor at UH Hilo, is the winner of the Ohia Challenge. Perroy, center, is standing next to Stanton Enomoto of the Department of the Interior’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, left, and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park ecologist David Benitez.

 The team: Dr. Perroy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography & Environmental Science and Director of the Spatial Data Analysis & Visualization (SDAV) lab at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The SDAV lab is a geospatial research unit consisting of faculty, specialists, and students at both the graduate and undergraduate level, all working together to help solve challenging environmental problems across Hawai‘i and the Pacific region. We specialize in high-resolution imaging and spatial analysis, and work on diverse issues including invasive species, sea level rise, and active lava flows. Over the past three years, the SDAV lab has collected and analyzed high-resolution images covering >50,000 acres on Hawai‘i and Kaua‘i Islands as part of a larger coordinated effort to combat Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD). We have successfully demonstrated that cm-resolution visible wavelength remote sensing is a valuable tool for rapidly detecting and monitoring new outbreaks of ROD in Hawai‘i once the disease has progressed to the point of inducing visible wilting. 

The proposed solution: To detect ROD in asymptomatic trees, and to minimize the likelihood of false negatives in laboratory analyses of physical samples, we propose a two-part solution. First, we propose to expand our imagery acquisition efforts to also include thermal, multispectral, and hyperspectral datasets. Based on repeat laboratory spectra collected from ʻŌhiʻa seedling inoculation experiments and published research for other wilt-inducing pathogens, we believe that this enhanced imagery approach has great potential to detect ROD in asymptomatic treesover large areas. Second, we propose to deploy a drone-based sampling platform, developed by our collaboration partners at ETH Zurich, to aerially collect physical twig and leaf samples from the canopy of suspect trees for direct fungal measurements. This aerial sampling capability, which has numerous advantages over traditional ground-based sampling, will allow us to better confirm and verify the presence of ROD in asymptomatic suspect trees.

Honorable Mention: Miguel Castrence

For the submission: Aerial imagery and machine learning for mapping ROD


The team: Miguel Castrence and Stephen Ambagis are managing partners of Resource Mapping Hawaiʻi (RMH), a provider of geospatial data solutions with a decade of experience in mapping and monitoring invasive plant species over large landscapes. Jeff Schlueter is Operations Manager at Conservation Metrics, Inc (CMI), a developer of cutting-edge analytical tools to monitor wildlife status, distribution and population trends. Melissa Fisher is the Director of the Kaua‘i Forest Program at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Hawaiʻi, which has been working for nearly 4 decades with its federal, state, and private partners to protect more than 200,000 acres of Hawai‘i’s natural areas.

The proposed solution: RMH, CMI, and TNC are teaming up to develop a fast, cost-effective, and robust method to map Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD) over large areas of remote, rugged terrain. We will automate identification of ROD-infected trees in high-resolution aerial imagery using a machine learning technique known as Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs). Once we develop a robust model and efficient workflow for detecting ROD over moderately sized areas (~5000 acres) on both the Big Island and Kaua‘i, we can scale this up for statewide monitoring at regular intervals to facilitate early detection and rapid response.

Honorable Mention: Lauralea Oliver

For the submission: Field-based Detection Of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death for Biosecurity

The team: Lauralea Oliver, owner of K9inSCENTive, LLC, has built trusted relationships with state and federal wildlife agencies through implementing sound scientific approaches to solve complex natural resource challenges. The innovative survey techniques she designs have garnered the support of both the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). One of her current projects includes training and handling the first Phytophthora (Sudden Oak Death) scent detection dog in the United States. Through K9inSCENTive and with support from local teams from Conservation Dogs of Hawaii, Lauralea will lead efforts in acquiring search dogs and training the dogs to detect Ceratocystis huliohia and Ceratocystis lukuohia. Lauralea will also work with Conservation Dogs of Hawaii in identifying and training local handlers to effectively work the scent-detection dogs. In addition, ongoing training and quality control services for the dogs and handlers will be supplied.


The proposed solution: Efficient and effective detection of the devastating fungi responsible for Rapid ‘Ohi’a Death (ROD) can inform and focus spread prevention efforts for this invasive species. Applying detection dogs gives a more comprehensive understanding of the target species’ ecology and offers in-field identification which other methods, such as human visual searches or lab only testing, cannot supply. The results of a systematic survey of the island along with biosecurity searches at the points of arrival and/or departure can indicate presence or absence of ROD in likely areas of introduction and identify possible vectors for transmission thus increasing containment success. The proposed deployment of the ROD Scent Detection Dog Team will be multifaceted. The teams will provide biosecurity at the points of departure, ports and airports, for shipments and passengers leaving currently affected islands by conducting regular searches in order to locate and control Ceratocystis huliohia and Ceratocystis lukuohia spores which may be present in shipping containers, crates, luggage, clothing, etc. The detection dog teams will also be included in an outreach/field component at high traffic Natural Area Reserves of concern on the Big Island of Kauai. 

Finalist: Julian Mendel

For the submission: "Agri-dogs": Scent discriminating Canines for Disease Detection

The team: Julian Mendel, PhD; DeEtta Mills, PhD; Kenneth G. Furton, PhD, John Mills, CEO Innovative Detection Concepts (iDC); and Lourdes Edlin, Animal behaviorist and expert canine trainer. This team brings together expertise in molecular biology, forensic science, engineering, volatile odor characterization, agriculture, animal behavior and canine training. We have successfully developed a program for the use of canines in the field for the detection of plant diseases in South Florida.

The proposed solution: The use of scent discriminating canines as an efficient and accurate detection tool has a long history in the scientific, security and civilian community. Detector dogs are commonly utilized in law enforcement and border security and can detect a wide range of targets including explosives, drugs, missing persons, money, guns and ammunition, as well as food products to name a few. In 2010, a disease called laurel wilt began to rapidly impact the S Florida avocado industry. Having killed in excess of 500 million wild laurel trees in the SE USA, this disease quickly became one of the most devastating in recent history. This disease, caused by a fungal pathogen, has similar etiology as rapid ʻŌhiʻa death.  The laurel wilt pathogen colonizes the xylem vessels and leads to the shutdown of water transport, wilting/browning of leaves and rapid death of trees. Our team embarked on a mission, funded by FL Department of Agriculture, to provide farmers with a proactive tool, through early and asymptomatic detection of infected trees, using scent discriminating canines . The research was successful with the canines having an average detection accuracy of 99.4 %. If treated immediately with fungicide, the trees had ≈ 90-95% save rate. Deployed in the field, the canines demonstrated asymptomatic detection at least one month prior to any visible symptoms (Mendel et al. 2018 1&2). In 2019, this team deployed to Hawaii and successfully demonstrated the capability of “Agri-dogs” for the detection of ROD, both in controlled trials and field demonstrations. This work was in collaboration with the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. Our proposal is to expand the use of “Agri-dogs” for the monitoring, detection and management of ʻŌhiʻa tree stands. 


Mendel, J., Burns, C., Kallifatidis, B., Evans, E., Crane, J., Furton, K. G., & Mills, D. (2018). Agri-dogs: Using Canines for Earlier Detection of Laurel Wilt Disease Affecting Avocado Trees in South Florida, HortTechnology28(2), 109-116. Retrieved Mar 29, 2019, from

Mendel, J., Furton, K. G., & Mills, D. (2018). An Evaluation of Scent-discriminating Canines for Rapid Response to Agricultural Diseases, HortTechnology28(2), 102-108. Retrieved Mar 29, 2019, from

Finalist: Deanna Lernihan

For the submission: E-Noses for Field Detection of ROD & Transmission Pathways

The team: Deanna Lernihan holds a Master of Public Health degree and has spent the past five years as a research specialist at the University of Michigan for suicide prevention and improving access to care for those with complex mental health problems.  Deanna strongly believes that environmental health is connected to mental and physical health. She has extensive experience with the intersection of human and environmental health through the creation of community gardens to connect people to plants, decrease food insecurity, enhance community connectedness, and foster environmental education.  Through her volunteer work, Deanna has been involved in the management of green spaces for education and recreation as well as the conservation of fragile ecosystems.  

The proposed solution: Deanna is passionate about conserving our natural forest canopies and hopes to make an impact on saving ʻŌhiʻa lehua from Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD). Her proposed solution is a non-invasive approach that involves using electronic noses (e-noses) to detect the unique chemical signatures of infected, asymptomatic ʻŌhiʻa lehua trees in the field. Deanna also proposes that e-noses be used to detect the ROD pathogens in the environment to prevent the spread of the disease and gain insight on transmission pathways. Finally, she recommends a novel use of e-noses to detect any natural, developing resistance in ʻŌhiʻa lehua trees through changes in volatile organic compounds so as to inform conservation strategies.

Finalist: Enrico Bonello

For the submission: A field-based assay to detect ROD in asymptomatic trees

The team: Our team, composed of Pierluigi (Enrico) Bonello, Alberto Santini, and Nicola Luchi, collectively has extensive experience in the field of alien invasive forest pathogens, including: molecular and biochemical mechanisms of tree-pathogen interaction and tree resistance screening; biogeographic patterns and determinants of invasion by alien forest pathogens; molecular detection of invasive pathogens; impact of climate change on pathogen invasion processes; interactions between native and alien organisms (insects and pathogens); and ecology of host-pathogen-environment interactions. In addition to such expertise, they can rely on their direct experience working on the related species Ceratocystis platani, a quarantined pathogen of plane (sycamore) trees introduced in Europe from North America, and on other quarantined pathogens (Xylella fastidiosa, Phytophthora ramorum, P. lateralis and others) to assure high probabilities of success

The proposed solution: In this project we will develop a LAMP assay to simultaneously detect the presence of Ceratocystis huliohia and C. lukuohia in the same sample, directly in the forest. LAMP is a technique that allows for the specific amplification of target pathogen DNA at constant temperature, rather than oscillating temperatures as in traditional or quantitative PCR. By using a very simple, portable device, such as the Genie II (Optigene, UK), it is possible to analyze up to 16 samples in around 30 min in the field. The LAMP assay is specific and sensitive enough to be able to detect, in real time, which of the two pathogens is present, even in asymptomatic plants, at concentrations as low as 0.02 pg μL−1 of DNA (fewer than 10 spores). With basic training, such a portable diagnostic tool will significantly reduce detection time and cost, and lead to faster management responses.This approach fits at least two of the three categories of solutions in this challenge extremely well: 1- field-based detection of ROD fungi in asymptomatic trees and 3- environmental pathway identification. 

Finalist: Anna Conrad

For the submission: Field-based Detection Of Rapid 'Ōhiʻa Death Using Spectroscopy

The team and proposed solution: Anna O. Conrad and Enrico Bonello are experts on molecular and biochemical tree resistance mechanisms and how this knowledge can be translated into management. Such translation has been particularly effective and of highest interest in the realm of invasive alien tree diseases and insect pests, and has been expressed in the development of infrared and Raman spectroscopic techniques and predictive models based on spectral data. These techniques have already been applied very successfully in the classification of trees into resistant and susceptible to specific diseases of worldwide concern, such as sudden oak death in California and ash dieback in Europe. Our proposed solution stems from these past successes by using near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, combined with machine learning, to rapidly, efficiently, effectively, and non- destructively identify infected, but pre-symptomatic, ‘Ōhiʻa trees. Our proposed solution provides an innovative alternative to existing methods, and if proven effective, has the potential to be adapted for high-throughput screening across landscape scales. 

Finalist: Elijah Sharpe

For the submission: System for rapid, mobile, and low-cost detection of ROD fungi

The team and solution: Elijah Sharpe is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Smart Diagnostics Systems (SDS). SDS is a biotechnology company focused on the research, development, and implementation of novel sensors, diagnostics, and software for the most advanced detection of harmful microorganisms. The company is made up of individuals that are nationally recognized for their achievements in biotechnology, biosensors, entrepreneurship, product development, and innovation. SDS has developed a diagnostic system for the detection of dangerous bacteria at the point-of-use that maximizes the speed, accuracy, ease of use, and cost efficiency associated with detection. The system has been primarily developed through support and funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation. During the ‘Ōhi’a Challenge, SDS will expand the system's detection library to encompass ROD fungi species Ceratocystis lukuohia and Ceratocystis huliohia. The diagnostic system will be deployed to introduce the advanced detection of ROD fungi in Asymptomatic Trees, throughout the landscape, and in environmental pathways. The ‘Ōhi’a Challenge will allow SDS to use our proven and revolutionary detection method to solve a growing problem and save the ‘Ōhi’a!

Finalist: Ryo Kubota

For the submission: A field-based assay to detect ROD in asymptomatic trees

The team: Rio Kubota is the Co-founder and CEO of Diagenetix, Inc. a Honolulu-based company. Our team of professionals with diverse backgrounds and disciplines work together to solve complex problems through solution-oriented innovative processes. Each team member has a unique role with skillsets ranging from micro/molecular biology, electrical/mechanical engineering to computer sciences, and environmental/conservation studies. Our multidisciplinary work ecosystem is vital to translate creativity and science into useful products. Diagenetix, Inc. was founded 9 years ago as a university tech start up from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa. Our relationship with industry, academia and government agencies nurture an environment for successful academic entrepreneurs and positive experiences for university start-up initiatives. Continuous engagement between university research and university tech startups is a relationship that we view as vital to succeed in the innovation economy of the future. As a result of our R&D efforts, our network between university researchers and collaborators extends globally across the world. We believe that our team has the capabilities necessary to solve local and global scaled issues with a support network that can provide outside resources or technologies when necessary.

The proposed solution: Diagenetix has developed a mobile gene-based diagnostic platform compatible with all isothermal DNA/RNA amplification technologies. This new handheld instrument called BioRanger TM , enables rapid, on-site molecular detection in real- time through your smartphone. Our inexpensive portable solution has been applied to numerous applications such as clinical diagnostics in remote locations, food safety, veterinary, aquaculture, and agriculture. We believe that combining the molecular test results with geospatial, temporal, and imagery data analysis through a BioRanger TM web-portal system can provide better strategies and solutions to our users’ needs and problems.