Month: May 2016

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.