Salt tolerant genetic loci in rice exposed

Rice is a staple food for over half of the world’s population. It is also the most salt-sensitive cereal crop, with losses in yield reaching up to 69%.

In a new study published in Nature Communications collaborators from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility investigated the early responses of rice plants to moderately-saline conditions and pinpointed new salt-tolerant genetic loci.

Project lead, Professor Mark Tester (KAUST), supervised PhD student Nadia Al-Tamini’s project which grew 297 indica and 256 aus rice varieties under low and high salinity. Using a technique called ‘high-throughput non-invasive phenotyping’ plants are moved on conveyor belts, imaged daily using digital cameras to monitor biomass and shoot development, and weighed to carefully measure transpiration levels (water use).

nadia-sh-rice

Dr Bettina Berger (left) and Nadia Al-Tamimi (right) in The Plant Accelerator®

“The Plant Accelerator® allowed us to analyse numerous aspects of the growth of multiple plants simultaneously,” says Professor Tester.

Using the facility’s cutting-edge technology, the researchers were able to show some genes, for example those connected with signaling processes, were important to plant growth in the first two to six days after salt application, while other genes became prominent later.

“This is perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this work – we can now obtain genetic details daily, pinpointing exactly when each locus comes into play in response to salinity,” says Professor Tester.

The results of this study could prove useful for breeding programs seeking to address yield and stress resistance to meet the demand of our increasing global population and climate challenges.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this study!!

Find the full articlewww.nature.com/articles/ncomms13342

More on Nadia Al-Tamini’s story:  https://blog.plantphenomics.org.au/2015/02/24/saudi-arabian-students-joins-plant-accelerator-team-to-investigate-salinity-tolerance-in-rice/

Professor Mark Tester, Plant Science Associate Director of the Center for Desert Agriculture Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, mark.tester@kaust.edu.sa, www.kaust.edu.sa/en/study/faculty/mark-tester

Dr Bettina Berger, Scientific Director, The Plant Accelerator, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, University of Adelaide, www.plantphenomics.org.au, bettina.berger@adelaide.edu.au

Life is better with a “fun-gi”

Fungi colonise the roots of all cereal crops in a mutually beneficial association where the plant benefits from greater stress tolerance through improved water and mineral intake in exchange for carbohydrates for the fungi. The challenge in managing crop productivity and stress resilience is the unpredictability of plant growth responses when exposed to the fungi. It is possible to have too much or too little of a good thing! How do we get it right to avoid a detrimental impact on the plant and future crop production?

PhD student Rohan Riley, from Western Sydney University, is attempting to explain this unpredictability in terms of resource limitation by introducing fungal communities to plants which are isolated from soils containing high or low levels of salinity and analysing the effects on plant stress at the phenotypic level. He is undertaking his research at The Plant Accelerator® after being awarded a Postgraduate Student Internship Grant with the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) in 2015.

”Using daily phenotyping following the application of salt stress and controlled watering-to-weight in The Plant Accelerator® allowed for an unprecedented resolution and range of plant genetic changes in response to combinations of nutrient level, salinity and two different fungal communities that would not otherwise be achievable in a regular greenhouse,”says PhD student, Rohan Riley.

rohan_brachy

”As a PhD student with limited experience in greenhouse experiments, the high controlled growth conditions, large-scale automation, digital imaging and software technology (high-throughput phenotyping) at The Plant Accelerator® provided me with the work-space, expertise and technical support to make a complicated experiment possible,”says Rohan.

The grain model Brachypodium distanchion was chosen to provide the greatest ease of knowledge transfer into many other crop plants with the view to developing future crops with greater resistance to environmental changes.

“It has been an amazing experience to conduct this experiment at The Plant Accelerator®. I am walking away from the facility with a big smile on my face, an incredible dataset for my PhD research and invaluable experience in greenhouse based plant research,’ says Rohan.

Thank you Rohan for being such a “fun guy” and a great addition to the team. It’s been a pleasure hosting you at The Plant Accelerator®!

Applications for the next round of APPF Postgraduate Student Internship Awards close on 30 November 2016.

To find out more about Rohan’s research:  https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rohan_Riley

To find out more about Postgraduate Student Internship Grants, Scholarships and other programs at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility:  http://www.plantphenomics.org.au/education/

Inaugural AusPheno Conference

The inaugural AusPheno Conference 2016 organised by the APPF, was held in September at the CSIRO Discovery Centre. The conference brought together 155 Australian and international plant scientists from the public and private sector for a week of talks and activities.

blog-2016-ausphenoCombined with the 5th International Controlled Environment Conference, topics reviewed the latest phenomics technologies and their application and presented research findings in plant phenomics, including environmental controlled and field phenotyping, remote sensing, root phenotyping and genome to phenome analysis to name a few.

The APPF launched ‘Plant Phenomics Australia’ during the conference, a new network to provide plant phenomics researchers and other stakeholders from across Australia with a platform to interact, collaborate, share ideas and best practice in phenomics research.

The conference was a resounding success with delegates enjoying the quality, range and depth of talks presented during the week. More information including copies of the talks presented can be accessed from the conference website.

The next AusPheno conference will be held in 2018, more details will be posted in 2017.

Related blog here

 

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.

hrppc-tractor-and-phenomobile

Can we make plants grow in salty soil?

QUINOA

(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®