phenomics

Next gen chase research break-throughs with unrivalled access to plant phenotyping technology

Our latest round of Postgraduate Internship Award (PIA) students have kicked off their research projects at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF)!

All our student interns have the unique opportunity to access the APPF’s cutting-edge phenotyping capabilities at no cost, learning about experimental design, and image and data anaylsis in plant phenomics while undertaking collaborative projects with the highly skilled APPF team. This experience allows our next generation of aspiring plant scientists to explore key research questions, reveal new data and make a real contribution to the global challenge of feeding future generations.

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Yue Qu (Julian) with his soybean plants in an automated, high-throughput plant phenotyping Smarthouse at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s Adelaide node

Yue Qu (Julian)

In his project ‘Investigating novel mechanisms of abiotic stress tolerance in soybean’ Julian seeks to answer two questions, (1) Does GmSALT3, a protein linked to improved salt tolerance, also confer tolerance to drought and oxidative stress in soybean, and (2) Does GmSALT3 improve growth under standard conditions. He will use a non-destructive, high-throughput plant phenotyping Smarthouse, hyperspectral leaf phenotyping, leaf ion content, ROS activity/detoxification of roots, and gas exchange to investigate 8 lines of soybean in combination with 4 treatments (control, drought, 100mM NaCl, 150mM NaCl).

“For my PhD I have been functionally characterising GmSALT3. I have used heterologous expression systems to examine transport activity, as well as phenotyping salt tolerance in the NILs,” said Julian.

However, more recent phenotyping data and RNA-seq analysis has led us to the hypothesis that the salt tolerance phenotype of GmSALT3 plants is a consequence of their improved ability to detoxify reactive oxygen species, and therefore they may be more stress tolerant in general. This is contrary to the prevailing hypothesis that the protein is directly involved in salt transport and directly, rather than indirectly confers salt exclusion. To test this hypothesis we need to properly phenotype the Near Isogenic Lines (NILs). We believe that the phenotyping capabilities of the APPF will give unparalleled insights into the stress tolerance of soybean that would not otherwise be possible. Such a finding will be a significant breakthrough and likely result in a high impact publication when added to our existing data.”

Supervisor, Professor Matthew Gilliham, from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology agreed. “The experience the APPF team offer while conducting these experiments will add a great deal to the impact of the papers Julian is preparing and reveal a new layer of complexity that would not be possible without their expertise.”

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Daniel Menadue watches over his wheat plants in a Smarthouse at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s Adelaide node

Daniel Menadue

Daniel is investigating a proton pumping pyrophosphatase (PPase) gene family in wheat and the role these genes play in the wheat plant’s response to environmental stress in and enhancing yield.

Vacuolar pyrophosphatase have been known for a while to be involved in a plant’s adaptation to the environment, however, the majority of the work on these genes has been using the gene from Arabidopsis, AVP1. Daniel’s research has identified the 12 wheat orthologs of AVP1 and from the sequence and expression data he has to date, he hypothesises that different PPases have different roles depending on their protein sequence and tissue localisation. To this end Daniel has generated transgenic bread wheat, cv Fielder, expressing two of the wheat genes (TaVP1-B and TaVP2-B) to further characterise the role of the PPase protein. Excitingly, Daniel has observed a growth phenotype, in the second generation of transgenic plants, with the transgenic plants appearing to grow faster and have larger biomass than wild type or null segregant plants. This is a phenotype previously seen in transgenic barley expressing the Arabidopsis AVP1 gene, plants which went on to show enhanced yield under salinity in the field (Schilling et al. 2014, Plant Biotech J.).

Given the very promising phenotype of these lines, Daniel will dissect this mechanism further using the non-destructive imaging capabilities at the APPF as an ideal platform for such experiments. He will investigate when the transgenic lines exhibit their enhanced growth, dissect whether they grow faster throughout the vegetative period or just for a short while at the start of their growth. He will also investigate the possibilities of following the growth of leaves through time and determine if the plants have enhanced resistance to salinity tolerance.

“In many ways we would like to replicate the study that we did in one of the APPF’s Adelaide Smarthouses which produced the barley data for the Schilling et al. 2014 paper, but in much more detail and using wheat plants with wheat genes,” said supervisor, Dr Stuart Roy from the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

“We envision that the data obtained from Daniel’s study will form the basis of at least one research publication and, if the results are promising, open up new areas of research and delivery for bread wheat with altered PPases expression levels through my International Wheat Yield Partnership project, AVP1, PSTOL1 and NAS – Three high-value genes for higher wheat yield.” – shared in our recent blog story ‘International consortia tackle the global challenge to increase wheat yields at the APPF’.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Julian and Daniel to the team!

The next round of Postgraduate Internship Awards at this APPF will close 30 November, 2017 – Apply now!

Internships are offered at the APPF in Adelaide and Canberra for enthusiastic, highly motivated postgraduate students with a real interest in our research and technology. Current postgraduate students in the following areas are encouraged to apply:

  • Agriculture
  • Bioinformatics
  • Biology
  • Biotechnology
  • Computer Science
  • Genetics
  • Mathematics
  • Plant physiology
  • Science
  • Software engineering
  • Statistics

Interstate students are strongly encouraged to apply!

We offer postgraduate internship grants which, in general, comprise:

  • $1,500 maximum towards accommodation in Adelaide or Canberra, if required
  • $500 maximum towards travel / airfare, if required
  • $10,000 maximum toward infrastructure use

The APPF has identified a number of priority research areas, each reflecting a global challenge and the role that advances in plant biology can play in providing a solution:

  • Tolerance to abiotic stress
  • Improving resource use efficiency in plants
  • Statistics and biometry
  • Application of mechatronic engineering to plant phenotyping
  • Application of image analysis techniques to understanding plant form and function

Students proposing other topics will also be considered.

APPF postgraduate internship grants involve access to the facility’s phenotyping capabilities to undertake collaborative projects and to work as an intern with the APPF team to learn about experimental design, image and data analysis in plant phenomics.

Selection is based on merit. Applications are assessed on the basis of academic record, research experience and appropriateness of the proposed research topic. Interviews may be conducted.

Postgraduate students are encouraged to contact APPF staff prior to submitting their application to discuss possible projects.

For more information and to apply click here.

Growing rice faster – uncovering the triggers behind early canopy closure

By combining high-resolution image-based phenotyping with functional mapping and genome prediction, a new study has provided insights into the complex genetic architecture and molecular mechanisms underlying early shoot growth dynamics in rice.

The more rapidly leaves of a plant emerge and create canopy closure, the more successful the plant, in establishment, resource acquisition and ultimately yield. An early vigor trait is particularly important in aerobic rice environments, which are highly susceptible to water deficits. The timing of developmental ‘triggers’ or switches that initiate tiller formation and rapid exponential growth are a critical component of this trait, however, searching for the switch that initiates this growth has proven challenging due to the complex genetic basis and large genotype-by-environment effect, and the difficulty in accurately measuring shoot growth for large populations.

“The availability of large, automated phenotyping platforms, such as those at Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF), allow plants to be non-destructively phenotyped throughout the lifecycle in a controlled environment, and provide high resolution temporal data that can be used to examine these important developmental switches,” said PhD student, Malachy Campbell.

Malachy and team, including Bettina Berger and Chris Brien from the APPF, phenotyped a panel of ~360 diverse rice accessions throughout the vegetative stage (11-44 day old plants) at The Plant Accelerator® at APPF. A mathematical equation was used to describe temporal growth trajectories of each accession. Regions of the genome that may regulate early vigor were inferred using genome-wide association (GWA) mapping. However, many loci with small effects on shoot growth trajectories were identified, indicating that many genes contribute to this trait. GWA, together with RNA sequencing identified a gibberellic acid (GA) catabolic gene, OsGA2ox7, which could be influencing GA levels to regulate vigor in the early tillering stage.

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Dr Malachy Campell in The Plant Accelerator® at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s Adelaide node

For some traits where genetic variation is controlled by a small number of loci, breeders can use MAS to identify individuals carrying the favourable locus/loci for the given trait, and select them for the next generation. For complex traits that are regulated by many loci, it becomes very difficult to detect loci that are associated with the trait. However, an alternative approach, genomic selection (GS), considers the total genetic contribution of all loci to the given trait. With this approach, loci across the genome can be used to predict the performance of individuals that have not yet been phenotyped (i.e. those in future generations). Since many loci were found to be contributing to early vigor, the team explored the possibility of using GS for improving this trait. Shoot growth trajectories could be predicted with reasonable accuracy, with greater accuracies being achieved when a higher number of markers were used. These results suggest that GS may be an effective strategy for improving shoot growth dynamics during the vegetative growth stage in rice. The approach of combining high-resolution image-based phenotyping, functional mapping and genome prediction could be widely applicable for complex traits across numerous crop species.

Read the full paper, published in The Plant Genome, here. (doi:10.3835/plantgenome2016.07.0064).

An exciting offer of help for significant plant science research projects

Do you have an exceptional plant science research project destined to deliver high impact outcomes for Australian agriculture? Do you need access to plant phenotyping capabilities?

The Phenomics Infrastructure for Excellence in Plant Science (PIEPS) scheme is open to all publicly funded researchers. Emphasis is placed on novel collaborations that bring together scientists preferably from different disciplines (e.g. plant physiology, computer science, engineering, biometry, quantitative genetics, molecular biology, chemistry, physics) and from different organisations, within Australia or internationally, to focus on problems in plant science.

The PIEPS scheme involves access to phenotyping capabilities at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) at a reduced cost to facilitate exceptional research projects. Researchers will work in partnership with the APPF to determine experimental design and optimal use of the equipment. Our team includes experts in agriculture, plant physiology, biotechnology, genetics, horticulture, image and data analysis, mechatronic engineering, computer science, software engineering, mathematics and statistics.

Applications are assessed in consultation with the APPF’s independent Scientific Advisory Board. Selection is based on merit.

This is an outstanding opportunity to gain access to invaluable expertise and cutting edge technology to accelerate your research project and make a real impact in plant science discovery.

Applications close:  30 September 2017

For more information and to apply:  APPF Phenomics Infrastructure for Excellence in Plant Science (PIEPS)

 

 

Canberra, Camille and the Cropatron…

As the sun rises over another crisp autumn morning in Canberra, you will find French intern, Camille Mounier, keenly watching over her rice lines in the Cropatron at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s node at CSIRO Agriculture and Food.

Her project, ‘A complex system biology approach to understand the factors affecting canopy photosynthesis’, is being led by Dr Xavier Sirault, Director of the node, in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The project team aim to develop system models of canopy photosynthesis for both rice and wheat, in particular, developing novel methods to combine these system models with phenomics data. This approach will help in the identification of the critical factors controlling photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency in C3 species with the view to improving canopy photosynthetic efficiency, and subsequently, crop yields in small grain cereals.

Using the Cropatron platform, Camille will acquire data on canopy growth, gas and energy exchange in order to validate the biophysical photosynthetic model developed by Prof Xinguang Zhu, Head of Plant Systems Biology Group at the CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology.

The Cropatron is a PC2 compliant, fully environmentally controlled (temperature, CO2 and humidity) greenhouse equipped with an automated gantry system (operating at 3.5m above the floor) for proxy-sensing imaging of plants grown in mini canopies. The sensing head is composed of an hyperspectral camera (400-1000nm) for measuring chlorophyll pigments, Far IR imaging for proxy sensing of canopy conductance, LiDAR for quantifying canopy architecture and monitoring growth over time, lysimeters for measuring water use at plot level and a gas exchange chamber at canopy level for measuring canopy assimilation.

Academic and commercial plant scientists are welcome to access the Cropatron platform – find out about pricing, availability and bookings here.

 

Taking five with… Michael Schaefer

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…

Michael Schaefer, PhD

Tell us a little about where you work within the APPF.

I am based at the CSIRO node of the APPF in Canberra. This centre focuses on “deep phenotyping” (delving into metabolism and physiological processes within the plant) and “reverse phenomics” (dissecting traits to discover their mechanistic basis). Here, next generation research tools are being developed and applied to probe plant function and performance, under controlled conditions and in the field.

What do you do there?

I’m a Research Scientist and Team Leader of the Translational Phenomics and Services team. My team looks after all of the new projects that come into our node of the APPF, from dealing with clients directly, to designing experiments based on the client’s needs, right through to providing the final data products and support with analysis.

What is the best part of your job?

As one of the newest team members, the best part of my job has been meeting and working with new people and dealing with new projects in different plants and crops. Every case is different, so designing and running each project is unique which provides a lot of variety.

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

I think in 5-10 years’ time plant phenomics research will be very different. We can already see that sensors and technology are getting smaller, faster and cheaper. I think much of what we do with large sensors (lidar for example) will be replaced by much smaller handheld devices or drones that will process data on the fly and give you a result straight away. This will affect all areas of science, not just plant science, so I think it will just be something that we have to adjust to.

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

Somewhere during my undergraduate degree. I was doing straight science, biology, chemistry and physics – very broad – and then I started making links with how physics could be related to the environment (i.e. plants etc.). This seemed to make more sense to me, as I could see the application and how it could directly affect people now, rather than working on something theoretical that may or may not ever be used.

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

For me, I’m really interested in pastures, so it would be the holy grail to be able to accurately, remotely measure above-ground biomass and split it into the green and senesced fractions.

Pic of Michael Schaefer for blog

Michael Schaefer at the western entry of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

“When I am not working I am…”

At home spending time with my wife Ali and daughter Emilia, or outdoors playing cricket, golf or fishing.

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

Good question…. being able to bend time and space like Dr. Strange. That would be pretty cool!

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

Fishing guide!

What is your most treasured possession?

They’re not a possession but my family are the most important to me.

If you could have dinner with two famous people who would they be?

Barack Obama and Tiger Woods.

What’s the one thing about you that would surprise people?

I have my private aeroplane pilot licence. I did my pilot training while I was doing my PhD – not that I get to fly much these days.

The APPF provides academic and commercial researchers with expert advice and access to high quality plant growth facilities and state-of-the-art automated phenotyping capabilities in controlled environments and in the field. We provide a suite of analytical tools to support high-throughput phenotyping and deep phenotyping in either controlled environments or in the field. Our dedicated team of experts provide consultation on project design and high quality customer support. If you would like to know more about our services and how we can support your plant science research, please contact us!

Travel grant opportunity to attend the 34th Annual Root Biology Symposium

IPPN Root Phenotyping Working Group
Travel Grant for Researchers Using Phenotyping
IPG 2017, 34th Annual Root Biology Symposium
Columbia, Missouri, USA
7-9 June 2017

The IPPN Root Phenotyping Working Group (RPWG) encourages mobility among researchers and enhances international contacts between research groups. With this sponsorship grant RPWG  supports participation of Early Career Researchers at the IPG 2017, 34th Annual Root Biology Symposium.

  • Up to four grants of 500 EUR per researcher can be awarded.
  • 1 May 2017

Conditions:

  • You are affiliated with a university or a research institution and you are an early career scientist, PhD student, or postdoc who finished his PhD no later than ten years ago.
  • Please fill in the travel grant application and submit it to Saoirse Tracy.
  • The applications will be evaluated by the RPWG Board.

A better way to tackle environmental variation in your greenhouse research

Statistics prove the smart way to deal with variation in your controlled environment greenhouse.

Plant phenomics allows the measurement of plant growth with unprecedented precision. As a result, the question of how to account for the influence of environmental variation across the greenhouse has gained attention.

Controlled environment greenhouses offer plant scientists the ability to better understand the genetic elements of specific plant traits by reducing the environmental variances in the interaction between genetics and environment.

But controlled environments aren’t as controlled as they seem – variation does exist. For example, some days are cloudy, some are not. The sun, as it crosses the sky, casts shadows differently on plants, depending on their position within the greenhouse. In fact, a recent study by colleagues at INRA in Montpellier showed significant light gradients within a greenhouse and provided sophisticated tools for understanding how much light each plant receives.

One practice for dealing with variation has been to rearrange the position of the plants around the greenhouse during the experiment, however, there is a better way.

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Rice plants growing in The Plant Accelerator® at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s Adelaide node

The automated high-throughput phenotyping greenhouses at The Plant Accelerator® are controlled environment facilities which use sensor networks to identify and quantify environmental gradients (light, temperature, humidity) in the greenhouses. To further tackle environmental variation, Chris Brien, Senior Statistician at The Plant Accelerator®, led a study that showed good statistical design and analysis was key to accounting for the impact of environmental gradients on plant growth. It was argued that rearranging the plants during the experiment makes it impossible to adjust for the effect of gradients and should be avoided.

The study involved a two-phase wheat experiment involving four tactics in a conventional greenhouse and a controlled environment greenhouse at The Plant Accelerator® to investigate these issues by measuring the effect of the variation on plant growth.

To learn more about Chris’s study read the full paper here.

To discuss the benefits of good statistical design contact Chris Brien.

To access The Plant Accelerator® for your research:  The Plant Accelerator® at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) is available to all publicly or commercially funded researchers. We have a full team of specialists including statisticians, horticulturalists and plant scientists who can provide expert advice to you when preparing your research plans.