Month: May 2017

Taking five with Prof. Justin Borevitz

The three national nodes of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) are home to a highly talented team of plant science researchers and specialists. This passionate, cross-disciplinary team is skilled in areas such as agriculture, plant physiology, biotechnology, genetics, horticulture, image and data analysis, mechatronic engineering, computer science, software engineering, mathematics and statistics. But who are they?

Today we take five minutes to get to know…

Prof. Justin Borevitz

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Tell us about where you work within the APPF.

I lead the Canberra ANU node of the APPF. Our node is part of the Australian National University (ANU) Plant Science Division which is a world leader in plant research. In addition to the APPF, ANU Plant Sciences contains the Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Plant Energy Biology (PEB), CoE Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP) and the ANU-CSIRO Centre for Genomics, Metabolomics and Bioinformatics.

The Canberra ANU node of the APPF offers:

  • On-site phenomics and plant growth services – NextGen growth and phenotyping facilities for Australian and international researchers including greenhouses and growth chambers with timelapse imaging.
  • Genomics and bioinformatics, study design and data analysis support – analysis of phenotypic and genomics data and the opportunity to collaborate with world-class researchers in genomics, photosynthesis and bioinformatics.
  • Development and streamlining of cross-scale approaches in monitoring for scaling from lab to field, chamber to crop and forest.
  • Research and development of open source hardware and software pipelines and visualisation tools for enabling lower cost high-throughput phenotyping (HTP) and environmental monitoring.
  • A collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to tackling the grand challenges associated with HTP and environmental monitoring.

We provide the only quarantine approved growth cabinets in Canberra for research purposes. A range of growth cabinets are available, capable of high resolution phenotyping of up to 2,000 small plants continuously in custom and climate-simulated growth environments (LED-based). Quantitative phenotypic screening for Arabidopsis and similar sized small plants can be conducted.

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Virtual reality is the new frontier in scientific visualisation. We also offer the ability to visualise a forest in virtual reality with sensor data overlays for a visually integrated understanding of the landscape. The APPF is a leader in the development of systems for visualising phenomics and environmental sensing data and point clouds in virtual and augmented reality (VR an AR). EcoVR is a virtual reality tool for recreating any forest or field site as a virtual space, where timelapse sensor and phenomics data can be overlaid on a 3-dimensional model of the landscape. VR and AR represent immense opportunities for revolutionising phenomics and education and for industry collaborations to develop new visualisation platforms for precision agriculture. These tools can help farmers understand their farming landscape and can be used by the forestry industry to understand how the landscape, environment and genetics interact to impact forest growth.

What do you do there?

I’m Scientific Director, overseeing all research projects.

What is the best part of your job?

I get the most enjoyment out of planning new experiments.

Where do you see plant phenomics research in 5-10 years time?

Digital, machine learning, interconnected sensors and farm equipment, and providing food and environmental services (carbon, water, nutrient management).

“The moment I realised I loved plant science was…”

On my dad’s farm, growing new release strawberries when I was 15 years old.

If you could solve one plant science question, what would it be?

Climate ready, high yielding crops that increase soil fertility.

“When I’m not working I am…”

You’ll find me kayaking or gardening (integrative problem solving).

If you could have one super power, what would it be?

I’d like to be able to communicate knowledge into understanding for rational decision making.

“If I wasn’t a plant scientist I would be a…”

Definitely a ski bumb!

What is your idea of absolute happiness?

My family.

What is your most treasured possession?

Again, my family.

What scares you?

Cancer, but also reaching global limits.

If you could go backwards or forwards in time, where would you go?

I’d like to see my grandfather as a child in Poland on his family farm, and my daughter as a grandmother on her urban farm.

Contact Professor Justin Borevitz

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Supporting the agricultural industry through R&D to deliver successful new products to market

Developing and bringing new agricultural products to market can be costly and time consuming for industry. Nufarm Limited recently sought the technology and expertise of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) to provide independent testing on potential new foliar sprays under development.

“The full service approach at the APPF, from the technology to the specialist staff, really appealed to us”, said Chad Sayer from Nufarm’s Product Strategy Group.

“The non-destructive, high-throughput phenotyping technology at the APPF gave us the ability to gain insights into our products under development that we could not achieve anywhere else. Their highly skilled, specialist team helped us design our experiments and provided invaluable advice throughout the project, right through to the data analysis.

“This has been exciting for us. Our pilot project delivered such promising results, we already have a large project underway”.

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(L) Plants undergoing spray treatment.  (R) Daily observation and analysis by the horticultural team

“We have a bespoke approach, working closely with our customers to design their experiments to deliver the best results”, said Dr Bettina Berger, Scientific Director at the Adelaide node of the APPF.

Dr Berger and her colleagues provide consultation on all projects carried out at the Adelaide node, supporting the development of the initial design and execution of the research. The specialist horticultural team set up the experiments and manage them through to completion. Customers can make use of online monitoring and access of projects throughout the experiment stage via Zegami (‘live processing’ which allows result checking on a day-to-day basis). On completion of experiments image analysis and data analysis are handled by our skilled engineering, software and statistics team. The research team then provide consultation on results and further follow-up as required.

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Plants in a Smarthouse at the Adelaide node of the APPF undergo daily image analysis throughout the experiment

The APPF is available to all publicly or commercially funded researchers. For further information or to discuss how we can support your research, please visit the APPF website for contact details. For more information about this project, contact Dr Berger.

Nufarm Limited is an Australian company. It is one of the world’s leading crop protection and specialist seeds companies, producing products to help farmers protect their crops against damage caused by weeds, pests and disease. With operations based in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and the Americas, Nufarm sells products in more than 100 countries around the world. Find out more about Nufarm here.

Zegami is a web application which allows users to filter, sort and chart data from experiments undertaken in the Smarthouses at the APPF Adelaide node, with the unique feature of being able to group that data with the corresponding images. To get a real feel for the application, we highly recommend you watch the video. Further reading here.

Solving the challenges of computer vision for plant phenotyping

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Plants in Spectral Pheno Climatron at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s Canberra ANU node

A ‘Computer Vision Problems in Plant Phenotyping‘ (CVPPP) workshop will be held in conjunction with ICCV 2017 this October in Venice, Italy.

Recommended by Dr Tim Brown from the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility‘s Canberra ANU node, the goal of this third CVPPP workshop is to continue to showcase the challenges raised by and extend state-of-the-art computer vision for plant phenotyping.

Workshop date:

  • 28 October

Target audience:

  • computer vision experts interested in novel application fields, well accessible to computer vision, but different in requirements, and
  • plant phenotyping scientists with rich expertise in image processing and computer vision interested in standardisation, as exact problem formulations in fact allow defining standards.

Find out more CVPPP 2017.

ICCV 2017 (International Conference on Computer Vision) is the premier international computer vision event comprising the main conference and several co-located workshops and tutorials. The conference will be held in Venice, Italy from 22-29 October, 2017. Find out more ICCV 2017.

To discover a full calendar of unmissable plant science events for 2017 and beyond, go to ‘Events‘ on the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s website, or our blog.

Be sure to subscribe to our blog for more plant science news and stay connected on Twitter @AusPlantPhenom.

Turbo charging crops to feed the billions: An interview with Prof Bob Furbank

The former Director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility‘s Canberra node at CSIRO, Professor Bob Furbank, has given an excellent interview on ABC Radio, discussing plant research and the global challenge to feed 9 billion people by mid-century.

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Now Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis at
Australian National University in Canberra, Bob talks about his experiences in early photosynthesis research and his part in the C4 Rice Consortium.

The C4 Rice Consortium coordinates efforts from labs all over the world trying to isolate the genes responsible in C4 plants and apply them in C3 plants. If successful, yields in wheat and rice are expected to be 50% higher than present. An impressive result seen as vital for future food security. The consortium is led by Jane Langdale at the University of Oxford and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Listen to the interview or read the full transcript here.

Fertiliser start-up gets a boost at APPF

Plant Technologist

Resource Recovery Australia together with CSIRO, Cape York Partnership, Balkanu and Kalan Enterprises are developing new income streams for Cape York’s Aboriginal communities by producing organic soil-conditioners from an unlikely source, feral pigs, which cause vast environmental damage to native ecosystems.

A pilot project at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s (APPF) Adelaide node, tested the effect of the ‘Feraliser’ at different concentrations on tomato growth.

“The data collected using the high-throughput phenotyping Smarthouse at the APPF provided valuable insights into the effectiveness of our product. We now know Feraliser performs just as well as the leading organic soil-conditioners currently on the market,” said Emmaline Froggatt from Resource Recovery Australia.

“Feraliser is very much at the start-up phase of development so costs are a big issue for us. The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility provided the information we needed without the expense of a full field trial.”

Find out more about Resource Recovery Australia.

To find out how the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility can support your research, go to our website or contact us.

A step closer to salt tolerant chickpea crops

A recent study has collected phenotypic data of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) which can now be linked with the genotypic data of these lines. This will enable genome-wide association mapping with the aim of identifying loci that underlie salinity tolerance – an important step in developing salt tolerant chickpeas.

In this study, Judith Atieno and co-authors utilised image-based phenotyping at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility to study genetic variation in chickpea for salinity tolerance in 245 diverse accessions (a diversity collection, known as the Chickpea Reference Set).

Chickpea is an important legume crop, used as a highly nutritious food source and grown in rotation with cereal crops to fix nitrogen in the soil or to act as a disease break. However, despite its sensitivity to salt, chickpea is generally grown in semi-arid regions which can be prone to soil salinity. This results in an estimated global annual chickpea yield loss of between 8–10%.

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Salinity tolerance phenotyping in a Smarthouse at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s Adelaide node at the Waite Research Precinct – Plants were imaged at 28 DAS for 3 consecutive days prior to 40 mM NaCl application in two increments over 2 days. Plants were daily imaged until 56 DAS. Right pane shows 6-week-old chickpeas on conveyor belts leaving the imaging hall proceeding to an automatic weighing and watering station.

 

The study found, on average, salinity reduced plant growth rate (obtained from tracking leaf expansion through time) by 20%, plant height by 15% and shoot biomass by 28%. Additionally, salinity induced pod abortion and inhibited pod filling, which consequently reduced seed number and seed yield by 16% and 32%, respectively. Importantly, moderate to strong correlation was observed for different traits measured between glasshouse and two field sites indicating that the glasshouse assays are relevant to field performance. Using image-based phenotyping, we measured plant growth rate under salinity and subsequently elucidated the role of shoot ion independent stress (resulting from hydraulic resistance and osmotic stress) in chickpea. Broad genetic variation for salinity tolerance was observed in the diversity panel with seed number being the major determinant for salinity tolerance measured as yield. The study proposes seed number as a selection trait in breeding salt tolerant chickpea cultivars.

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Genotypic variation for salinity tolerance in the Chickpea Reference Set. Varying levels of salinity tolerance exhibited by different chickpea genotypes. Exposure of sensitive genotypes to 40 mM NaCl caused severe stunted growth, leaf damage, and led to less number of reproductive sites (flowers and pods) compared to moderately tolerant and tolerant genotypes.

 

The rapid development of new, high-resolution and high-throughput phenotyping technologies in plant science has provided the opportunity to more deeply explore genetic variation for salinity tolerance in crop species and identify traits that are potentially novel and relevant to yield improvement. The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility provides state-of-the-art phenotyping and analytical tools and expertise in controlled environments and in the field to help academic and commercial plant scientists understand and relate the performance of plants to their genetic make-up. A dedicated cross-disciplinary team of experts provides consultation on project design and high quality support.

To read the full paper in Scientific Reports, “Exploring genetic variation for salinity tolerance in chickpea using image-based phenotyping” (doi:10.1038/s41598-017-01211-7), click here.

To find out more about the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility and how we can support your research click here.