plant research

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.

 

 

Sun protection and diversity could be key to more productive rice crops

With a rapidly growing population, improving the yield of global food staples such as rice has become an urgent focus for plant scientists.

In a recent study published on Plant Physiology, scientists have discovered they can improve rice productivity by selecting rice varieties that are better at capturing sunlight to produce grains instead of reflecting it as heat.

The team, which included Dr Xavier Sirault from the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre (APPF – HRPPC), focused on rice’s natural diversity by using traditional breeding techniques to select cultivated varieties – or cultivars – that are better at converting sunlight into food.

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“We studied hundreds of plants from five rice cultivars and found that there is variation between these varieties in relation to the quantity of light they use for growth or dissipate as heat. Some of them are capable of converting more sunlight into chemical energy, producing greater leaf area over time,” said lead researcher, Dr Katherine Meacham.

When leaves intercept sunlight, this sunlight is either; 1) absorbed by the leaf and converted via the process of photosynthesis into the plants own components; leaves, grains, roots, etc. 2) dissipated as heat as an strategy to protect the proteins of the plant from sun damage (photo-protection) or, 3) re-emitted as fluorescent light. In this study, the researchers measured fluorescence to infer the quantity of energy that is either converted into food or dissipated as heat.

“Recently scientists in the US found that they can produce transgenic plants that are better at catching sunlight without getting sun damage. Our work shows that this is also achievable by taking advantage of the natural variation of rice plants,” says Professor Robert Furbank, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis and one of the authors of this study.

“What is new about our research is that scientists had previously thought there was not much variation in how efficiently leaves could absorb and use light, and the reason for this is that they were not considering the full picture and measuring the plants throughout the entire day under natural illumination. We revealed that there are considerable differences between the five rice cultivars under moderate light and that means that there is room for selecting the most efficient plants,” said Professor Furbank.

“We found that there is room for improvement in some cultivars that can result in more photosynthesis without risking the plant’s protection strategies against sunlight damage.

The scientists measured fluorescence by clipping light receptors on leaves throughout a whole day to get a full picture of how the plant uses sunlight.

Traditional breeding for photosynthetic traits has not been a common strategy in any major cereal crop, in part due to the difficulty in measuring photosynthesis in thousands of plants. However, rapid screening tools are now available to study the interaction between the genes and the way they interact with the environment.

“Using unique facilities at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility’s High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre we were able to follow chlorophyll fluorescence in rice canopies throughout the entire day under natural illumination. This gave us completely different results when compared to the usual 30 min measurement of leaf level light use efficiency. By combining this with digital biomass analysis using PlantScan, we could link light use efficiency with growth, revealing genetic variation in rice varieties not previously detected,” said Professor Furbank.

“Our next step is to find varieties with superior photo-protection. We can directly use these for breeding and find the genes responsible. We have the capacity to screen many thousands of rice varieties for which we have gene sequence through the International Rice Research Institute,” said Dr Meacham.

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Measuring photosynthesis.  Photo credit:  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

 

 

It’s a date! 5th International Plant Phenotyping Symposium, 2-5 October 2018

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility is thrilled to announce the dates for the 5th International Plant Phenotyping Symposium (IPPS) will be 2-5 October 2018!

We look forward to welcoming the international plant phenotyping community to the host city, Adelaide, South Australia, where you will get the full Australian experience all in one state. From cage diving to fine dining, there’s a wine barrel full of reasons why South Australia was named as one of Lonely Planet’s best regions to visit in 2017! Find out more about this vibrant city before you arrive here.

We will post more details about the symposium as they come to hand – make sure you have elected to follow our blog! – and on the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility‘s website.

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2018 Host City, Adelaide, South Australia   (Image source: South Australian Tourism Commission)

 

Major investment in plant root phenotyping to answer key questions

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3-D image of root architecture – Lynch Laboratory, The Pennsylvania State University, USA

It all starts in the roots

Australian agriculture operates in a largely harsh, resource limited (nutrients, water) environment so the role of plant roots is even more vital to crop performance.

While advances in technology have resulted in a tenfold increase in crop productivity over the past century, soil quality has declined. Advanced root systems that increase soil organic matter can improve soil structure, fertiliser efficiency, water productivity, crop yield and climate resilience, while mitigating topsoil erosion — all of which provide near-term and sustained economic value.

It is acknowledged within the international plant science and phenotyping community that root phenotyping is a critical component for crop improvement, but no ideal hardware solution has been developed yet. There is always a compromise between destructive and non-destructive measurement, throughput and resolution, and ultimately, cost.

Recognition of these challenges and increased research investment to find the answers is now coming to the fore in international plant science.

USD $7 million for plant root research granted

Researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have just received a USD $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, to design a low-cost, integrated system that can identify and screen for high-yielding, deeper-rooted crops.

The interdisciplinary team, led by Jonathan Lynch, distinguished Professor of Plant Nutrition, will combine a suite of technologies designed to identify phenotypes and genes related to desirable root traits, with the goal of enhancing the breeding of crop varieties better adapted for nitrogen and water acquisition and carbon sequestration.

“With ARPA-E’s support, we plan to create DEEPER, a revolutionary phenotyping platform for deeper-rooted crops, which will integrate breakthroughs in non-destructive field phenotyping of rooting depth, root modeling, robotics, high-throughput 3D imaging of root architecture and anatomy, gene discovery, and genomic selection modeling,” Lynch said.

“ARPA-E invests in programs that draw on a broad set of disciplines and require the bold thinking we need to build a better energy future,” said ARPA-E Director, Ellen D. Williams.

The project is part of ARPA-E’s Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration, or ROOTS, program, which is aimed at developing crops that enable a 50 percent increase in carbon deposition depth and accumulation, while also reducing nitrous oxide emissions (a contributor to greenhouse gas) by 50 percent and increasing water productivity by 25 percent.

Read the full article, by Charles Gill from The Pennsylvania State University, here.

UDC Plant Science Centre

Through a € 1.3m investment from Science Foundation Ireland, the Integrated Plant Phenomics and Future Experimental Climate Platform has been established at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland. The combination of infrastructure and facilities available to researchers will represent the first of its kind globally.

The platform will be housed in the same building at UCD allowing seamless transition from experiment to scanner. It will consist of a large capacity 3D X-ray CT scanner which uses X-rays taken from multiple angles to non-destructively build-up a 3D image of whole plants and their internal structures, both above and below ground with fast (minutes) scan times and six reach-in, high-spec plant climate chambers with full (de)humidification capabilities. Novel custom additions will include full-spectrum variable LEDs, enabling more accurate representation of sunlight conditions experienced by crops under field conditions. The chambers will integrate thermal imaging to continuously capture leaf temperature and inferred ecophysiological processes (gas exchange).

Breakthroughs in crop/plant/soil/food science will be possible, particularly below ground and at night, because the consequences of climate change or new crop breeds on below-ground /night-time processes have not been readily accessible before the advance of X-ray CT, thermal imaging and integration of these components into an infrastructure platform.

The Centre unites a large number of UCD plant scientists that investigate fundamental and applied aspects of plant science and work alongside industry in exploiting research breakthroughs.

Read more here.

Danforth Plant Science Center

A new industrial-scale X-ray Computed Tomography (X-ray CT) system at the Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri, USA, is the first of its kind in the U.S. academic research sector dedicated to plant science and can provide accelerated insight into how root systems affect plant growth. The technology was established in late July 2016 under a collaborative multi-year Master Cooperation Agreement with Valent BioSciences Corporation (VBC) and is also supported with funds from a recent National Science Foundation grant.

“X-ray imaging has been a mainstay in medical and industrial research and diagnostics for many decades, yet it is rarely used in plant science,” said Chris Topp, Ph.D., assistant member of the Danforth Center and principal investigator for the project. “The X-ray CT system will allow us to ‘see’ roots in soil and study plants as a connected system of roots and shoots growing in diverse environments.”

“This system is unlike any other in the United States,” said said Keith Duncan, research scientist in the Topp Lab and manager of the new system. “It gives us a great deal of control over the X-ray conditions and will allow us to gather structural data on any object we put into the machine. It provides us with an internal look at not only the root systems, but what’s going on inside the stem and other parts of the plant without taking invasive measures such as removing the plant from the ground or cutting into it.”

In addition to grain crops, this project will also advance research in root and tuber crops such as cassava, potato, groundnut and others that are important for food security in many regions around the globe, but are especially hard to study.

The project combines state-of-the-art technology with computational analysis, quantitative genetics and molecular biology to understand root growth and physiology to assist researchers in understanding roots as they grow in real time in real soil. Both Topp and Duncan agree, this collaboration is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I expect that in a short time, the X-ray imager will catalyze numerous research projects among Danforth Center, St. Louis, national and international researchers that were previously not possible,” said Chris Topp, Ph.D., assistant member of the Danforth Center and principal investigator for the project.

Read more here. Learn more about the partnership and X-ray system here.

Hounsfield Facility for Rhizosphere Research

The Hounsfield Facility for Rhizosphere Research is a unique platform established with €3.5 million in funding from the European Research Council, the Wolfson Foundation, BBSRC, and the University of Nottingham. It accommodates ERC funded postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, X-ray imaging research equipment and automated growth facilities in one state-of-the-art building and fully automated greenhouse complex.

A key impediment to genetic analysis of root architecture in crops has been the ability to image live roots in soil non-invasively. Recent advances in microscale X-ray Computed Tomography (μCT) now permit root phenotyping. However, major technical and scientific challenges remain before μCT can become a high throughput phenotyping approach.

This unique high throughput root phenotyping facility exploits recent advances in μCT imaging, biological image analysis, wheat genetics and mathematical modelling to pinpoint the key genes that control root architecture and develop molecular markers and new crop varieties with improved nutrient and water uptake efficiency.

The facility’s ambitious multi-disciplinary research program will be achieved through six integrated work packages. The first 3 work packages were designed create high-throughput μCT (WP1) and image analysis (WP2) tools that will be used to probe variation in root systems architecture within wheat germplasm collections (WP3). Work packages 4-6 will identify root architectures that improve water (WP4) and nitrate uptake efficiencies (WP5) and pinpoint the genes that regulate these traits. In parallel, innovative mathematical models simulating the impact of root architecture and soil properties will be developed as tools to assess the impact of architectural changes on uptake of other nutrients in order to optimise crop performance (WP6).

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The Hounsfield Facility for Rhizosphere Research, University of Nottingham, UK

 

Hello, ni hau, hola, guten tag, marhaba, bonjour… knowledge sharing the key to plant science success

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) is a national facility, available to all plant scientists, offering access to infrastructure that is not available at this scale or breadth in the public sectors anywhere else in the world.

Our three nodes in Adelaide and Canberra frequently welcome international research, industry and government guests to tour facilities and share knowledge in plant phenomics. Encouraging and supporting a global community focused on providing better nutrition and food security is key to the APPF vision we uphold.

Recently the CSIRO based HRPPC node of the APPF hosted a VIP visit by the Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Glenys Beauchamp, CSIRO CEO, Larry Marshall, and the Canadian High Commissioner, His Excellency Paul Maddison.

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Larry Marshall (CEO, CSIRO), Glenys Beauchamp (Secretary, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science) and His Excellency Paul Maddison (Canadian High Commissioner) in front of a Phenomobile Lite at the APPF HRPPC           (Image courtesy of the CSIRO)

Hosted by Drs Xavier Sirault and Jose Jimenez-Berni, the visitors observed aspects of the work done by the APPF’s HRPPC in the controlled environment and had the opportunity to see first-hand one of the centre’s purpose built and designed Phenomobile Lite buggies which are used in the field for capturing plant traits.

The group discussed an overview of the range of research and development activities and issues facing Australia in science and technology and the Canadian High Commissioner shared his interested in areas of existing and potential collaboration between Australia and Canada.

We welcome and encourage engagement with the international plant science community. If you would like to visit one of our sites, discuss your plant phenomics research or book one of our facilities, please contact us – we love plant science!

 

 

Getting to the root of the problem wins

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Congratulations to Olivia Cousins, one of the Adelaide-Nottingham PhD students, who won the student poster prize at a joint conference between Soil Science Australia and New Zealand Soil Science Society, held in Queenstown, NZ recently.

Olivia’s poster, which included co-authors from The University of Adelaide, The University of Nottingham and The Plant Accelerator® at the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, was one of approximately 100 posters presented at the conference. The award also includes a cash prize for Olivia.

We announced Olivia’s study here in our blog in May. The aim of her study was to quantify the impact of different soil moisture regimes and increasing levels of soil nitrogen supply on shoot and root response in wheat plants. Olivia’s experiment utilised the DroughtSpotter, a precision irrigation platform allowing accurate and reproducible water application for drought stress or related experiments. She also used the facility’s PlantEye laser scanner to non-destructively measure plant growth.

Olivia plans an exciting move to Nottingham in 2018 to continue her research including root traits and responses across different wheat species.

To view Olivia’s poster… soilecology.org/conference-posters.

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility is available to all researchers and/or industry. For bookings please contact Dr Trevor Garnett.