the plant accelerator

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).

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.

 

 

 

Taking the kinks out of curves

In a recent paper, researchers have developed a methodology suitable for analyzing the growth curves of a large number of plants from multiple families. The corrected curves accurately account for the spatial and temporal variations among plants that are inherent to high-throughput experiments.

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An example of curve registration.  a The salinity sensitivity (SS) curves of the 16 functions from an arbitrary family, b SS curves after the curve registration, and c the corresponding time-warping functions. The salinity sensitivity on the y-axis of a and b refers to the derivative of the relative decrease in plant biomass

 

Advanced high-throughput technologies and equipment allow the collection of large and reliable data sets related to plant growth. These data sets allow us to explore salt tolerance in plants with sophisticated statistical tools.

As agricultural soils become more saline, analysis of salinity tolerance in plants is necessary for our understanding of plant growth and crop productivity under saline conditions. Generally, high salinity has a negative effect on plant growth, causing decreases in productivity.  The response of plants to soil salinity is dynamic, therefore requiring the analysis of growth over time to identify lines with beneficial traits.

In this paper the researchers, led by KAUST and including Dr Bettina Berger and Dr Chris Brien from the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF), use a functional data analysis approach to study the effects of salinity on growth patterns of barley grown in the high-throughput phenotyping platform at the APPF. The method presented is suitable to reduce the noise in large-scale data sets and thereby increases the precision with which salinity tolerance can be measured.

Read the full paper, “Growth curve registration for evaluating salinity tolerance in barley” (DOI: 10.1186/s13007-017-0165-7) here.

Find out how the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility can support your plant science research here.

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High-throughput phenotyping in the Smarthouse™ at the Adelaide node of the APPF

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Barley plants growing in the Smarthouse™

 

 

Getting to the root of plant zinc health

Sunlight and water are two obvious requirements essential for healthy growth of plants, but did you know that zinc is also a vital ingredient? Zinc is a critical nutrient in hundreds of enzyme systems which are necessary for normal plant function. Zinc is also critical for human health – in fact, zinc is involved in more body functions than any other mineral.

Plants get zinc from the soil via their root systems. This uptake of nutrients is enhanced in many plants by mycorrhizal fungi which colonise the roots, creating a vast connection between the plant roots and the soil around them. Mycorrhizal fungi effectively increase the surface area of the roots, collecting nutrients from the soil beyond the reach of plant roots alone, and transfer these nutrients back to the plant.

Scientist, Dr Stephanie Watts-Williams, wants to find out how such mycorrhizal fungi can improve the zinc nutrition of plants, and subsequently impact on human health – particularly in countries where zinc malnutrition is a serious issue.

Read on here about Stephanie and her research at The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility, and other Waite Research Precinct partners.

Discover more about Stephanie’s research here or find her on Twitter:  @myco_research

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Dr Stephanie Watts-Williams at The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility

New APPF website – have your say!

When it comes to plant science, we know our stuff, but we want to make sure we are sharing it the best way possible.

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility is developing a new website. This is your chance to have your say! If you would like to offer some feedback, an idea on how our website can better support your research needs or if you have a desire for greater information, resources or news, please let us know. Contact us here.