PhD student investigates aspects of drought tolerance in barley

Jannatul Ferdous, a PhD student from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), used the high-throughput phenotyping platform at The Plant Accelerator® for her project ‘Drought-inducible expression of Hv-miR827 enhances drought tolerance in transgenic barley’. Jannatul’s research findings have just been published in the journal of Functional & Integrative Genomics. See abstract below.

Drought is one of the major abiotic stresses reducing crop yield. Since the discovery of plant microRNAs (miRNAs), considerable progress has been made in clarifying their role in plant responses to abiotic stresses, including drought. miR827 was previously reported to confer drought tolerance in transgenic Arabidopsis. We examined barley (Hordeum vulgare L. ‘Golden Promise’) plants over-expressing miR827 for plant performance under drought. Transgenic plants constitutively expressing CaMV-35S::Ath-miR827 and drought-inducible Zm-Rab17::Hv-miR827 were phenotyped by non-destructive imaging for growth and whole plant water use efficiency (WUEwp). We observed that the growth, WUEwp, time to anthesis and grain weight of transgenic barley plants expressing CaMV-35S::Ath-miR827 were negatively affected in both well-watered and drought-treated growing conditions compared with the wild-type plants. In contrast, transgenic plants over-expressing Zm-Rab17::Hv-miR827 showed improved WUEwp with no growth or reproductive timing change compared with the wild-type plants. The recovery of Zm-Rab17::Hv-miR827 over-expressing plants also improved following severe drought stress. Our results suggest that Hv-miR827 has the potential to improve the performance of barley under drought and that the choice of promoter to control the timing and specificity of miRNA expression is critical.

Ferdous, J., Whitford, R., Nguyen, M. et al. (2016) Drought-inducible expression of Hv-miR827 enhances drought tolerance in transgenic barley. Functional & Integrative Genomics doi:10.1007/s10142-016-0526-8

Finding the Link

The International Wheat Yield Partnership aims to make major improvements to wheat yields globally by exploring increases in biomass and photosynthesis.  Two projects underpinning this research are currently underway at ANU in collaboration with research groups at collaborators at CIMMYT in Mexico and in the UK:

  • Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis are mapping phenomics data on wheat to genomic sequence data to find the genes underpinning photosynthetic variation, whilst
  • Scientists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Energy Biology are carrying out similar experiments to explore how efficiently plants use the carbon fixed in photosynthesis to produce yield.

An exciting new project to link the two research projects above is currently facilitated at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility. The project examines the links between photosynthesis, growth rate and respiration rate in a set of wheat lines chosen for variation in their photosynthetic properties.

These lines are first being grown in field plots of the Field Cropatron* to be scanned for hyperspectral reflectance, digital growth analysis with Phenomobile Lite and respiratory efficiency, measured in a unique high throughput respirometer.

The same lines will be grown in controlled environment chambers and scanned in the same way but using PlantScan. These data will inform the researchers how early in development they can measure these traits and whether controlled environment ranking of the 25 lines of wheat can be robustly extrapolated to the field.

For more information contact Bob Furbank or Owen Atkin.

*Check it out: Time-lapse video of the irrigation set-up in the Field Cropatron.


Can we make plants grow in salty soil?


(Photo by Nicole Bond: Quinoa grown at The Plant Accelerator)

Mark Tester and Sandra Schmoeckel, researchers at the King Abduallah University of Science & Technolgy and frequent users of The Plant Accelerator, were recently interviewed by the Naked Scientists program. Asked the question whether we can grow plants on salty soils, the answer points towards an increasingly popular grain – quinoa. You can listen to the interview with Sandra and Mark on the Naked Scientist podcast to learn more about the tremendous potential of quinoa.


Drought effects on soil bugs

Olivia Cousins is a PhD student jointly supervised by Professor Sacha Mooney at the University of Nottingham and Dr Tim Cavagnaro at the University of Adelaide.

As part of her research in Australia, Olivia is carrying out an experiment at The Plant Accelerator® to investigate the effects of soil wetting and drying on soil nitrogen pools and soil biota, and their influence on the growth of wheat plants. Understanding these processes will help improve nitrogen use efficiency thus helping farmers reduce their costs and relieve the environmental impact of fertiliser application.

Olivia’s experiment utilises the DroughtSpotter, a precision irrigation platform allowing accurate and reproducible water application for drought stress or related experiments. Olivia is also using the facility’s PlantEye laser scanner to non-destructively measure plant growth.

The DroughtSpotter platform was recently enhanced by the addition of supplemental LED lighting, which boosts growth and removes some of the spatial variation in lighting inherent in most greenhouses. The facility is available to all researchers and/or industry. For bookings please contact Dr Trevor Garnett.

DS GH with LEDs and sensors Olivia2

PhD student Olivia Cousins in the DroughtSpotter facility of The Plant Accelerator®

Spying on trees

Dr Tim Brown from the APPF’s team at the Australian National University is helping researchers from the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) to use surveillance camera networks and drone data to spy on trees. The project will make huge amounts of time-lapse image data accessible for scientists trying to understand how climate change will affect forests around the world.

“Rapid change in technology has made it possible to cheaply deploy lots of cameras and generate vast coverage. This complexity of data is needed to crack really serious environmental issues”, says Tim, who is harnessing gaming technology to organise the huge quantities of data that are produced by surveillance cameras and other sensors into easily accessible formats.

“I’m excited to make tools for citizen science, or students for example. They can visit a forest on the other side of the world in virtual reality, or for under $100 build their own time-lapse camera and use our software to monitor the environment at their school.” Read more

An example of Tim’s work, a panorama of North Canberra taken from Black Mountain, showing the contrast between spring and autumn colours was selected as the cover for the March 2016 issue of the Journal Frontiers in Ecology, in which his research is published.

You can also view an interactive version of the Canberra Panorama.

2016 Blog Tim Brown

Go for a ride on The Plant Accelerator’s conveyor system

Tim Brown from the APPF’s ANU node brought along his 360 degree camera equipment to take these fantastic videos of the plant imaging system in Adelaide, proving that science can be a whole lot of fun. Plant Accelerator Video 1  and Plant Accelerator Video 2


Take a seat and experience a ride on the automated phenotyping system at The Plant Accelerator. You will take the same route our plants take on a daily basis, from the Smarthouse, through the imaging chambers, past the watering station and back.

We send the plants on this daily ride to collect images that provide us with important information about their size and health in response to different environments. Most importantly, taking images, rather than cutting of the plants and weighing them, means we can measure them again and again to look at changes over time.

If you want to get an idea of what the results look like and how plant scientists make use of the data coming out at the end, you can try our new software tool Zegami.


APPF supports start-up company

The team of The Plant Accelerator (APPF) has worked with the Coritsu Group to  further develop  image visualisation software that meets the needs of the plant phenomics community. Coritsu CEO Samuel Conway reports on the collaboration:

“Over the last 18 months, The Plant Accelerator at the University of Adelaide has been an integral part of the overall development of Zegami, an image management toolset, which enables users to intuitively search, sort, filter and group thousands of images in a very dynamic and ad hoc way.

This cutting edge “Big Data” image visualisation technology was developed by a local Adelaide software company, the Coritsu Group, in collaboration with the Weatherall Institute at the University of Oxford (UK). The success of this collaboration has now led to the formation of a funded Oxford start-up company, Zegami Ltd (UK), which has attracted significant start-up investment and will be headed up by Coritsu Group’s founder and MD Samuel Conway and Roger Noble, former Coritsu CTO and the developer of the technology.

Oxford Press Release

A significant factor in this success can be attributed to the development opportunity of key features and the support that The Plant Accelerator has provided. Zegami has helped the facility address one of their primary research challenges; i.e. how to combine an image and the data associated to it in a simple and intuitive way, which enables researchers to quickly and easily analyse these results. Zegami successfully addresses these challenges today, providing researchers with a unique and powerful toolset.

YouTube clip on how the organisation uses Zegami

The collaboration between the teams of The Plant Accelerator and the Coritsu Group has actively contributed to the software solution being promoted globally within the phenomics community. Currently, Zegami Ltd is in negations with major phenomics software suppliers in the UK and Europe who are keen to incorporate the product into their overall product service offerings.

On behalf of both Coritsu Group and Zegami Ltd, I would like to thank the team of
The Plant Accelerator for their support, direction and guidance within such a unique and specialised field of research.

Zegami’s amazing cutting edge and disruptive technology has the ability to change the way users view their data and this is leading researchers to new and previously unseen discoveries.”

Samuel Conway,
CEO Founder – Coritsu Group (AUS), Zegami Limited (UK)