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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.

 

Spreading the word on great plant science

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) will appear in the media twice this week, promoting the importance of plant science.

The Stock Journal ran an article today (27 April) featuring our very own Dr Trevor Garnett on the front cover, talking about the importance of investment in agricultural research and the services available to scientists at the APPF.

The Adelaide node of the APPF will also feature on Channel 9’s television show “South Aussie with Cosi” which will air this Friday (28 April) at 8pm as part of a feature on the history and incredibly important research undertaken within the Waite Research Precinct. The segment can also be viewed online after the air date at:  https://www.9now.com.au/south-aussie-with-cosi.Trevor_Stock Journal paper clips

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™

 

 

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.

 

 

Drought knows no borders

The Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) was delighted to welcome His Excellency Mr Mohamed Khairat, Ambassador of The Arab Republic of Egypt, to its Adelaide node recently.

Egyptians share our love of wheat, however, they are heavily reliant on wheat imports which are struggling to keep up with demand. As a remedy, 1.5 million hectares of Egyptian land has been set aside for local wheat production, but there are challenges ahead. Egyptian wheat growers suffer from the same yield limiting issues of heat and drought as we do here in southern Australia.

While touring the facility, His Excellency shared his enthusiasm for future collaboration with the APPF’s Dr Trevor Garnett.

“There is a wealth of knowledge and experience at the APPF and the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide in plant phenotyping and wheat production. His Excellency sees exciting opportunities for Egyptian scientists and PhD students to collaborate on research and share ideas on how to improve this essential crop”, said Dr Garnett.

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His Excellency Mr Mohamed Khairat, Ambassador of The Arab Republic of Egypt (pictured right) talks with Dr Trevor Garnett in the DroughtSpotter greenhouse at The Plant Accelerator®, Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (Adelaide node)

 

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

 

Accurate field canopy temperature measured in seconds

A method for cost-effective, reliable and scalable airborne thermography has been developed, resolving a number of challenges surrounding accurate high-throughput phenotyping of canopy temperature (CT) in the field, such as weather changes and their influence on more time consuming measurement methods. Utilising a manned helicopter carrying a radiometrically-calibrated thermal camera, thermal image data is captured in seconds and processed within minutes using custom-developed software; an invaluable advantage for large forward genetic studies or plant breeding programs.

The method and research results, by a collaboration between CSIRO Agriculture and Food, the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility – High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre, CSIRO Information Management and Technology, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis were published recently in Frontiers in Plant Science.

Read the full study“Methodology for high-throughput field phenotyping of canopy temperature using airborne thermography”, here or the abstract below.

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Airborne thermography image acquisition and processing pipeline. Total time to acquire and process images for an experiment comprising 1,000 plots of size 2 x 6 m is ca. 25 min. (A) Image acquisition with helicopter. The images are recorded on a laptop and the passenger, left, provides real time assessment of the images and feedback to the pilot. This step takes < 10 s for an experiment comprising 1,000 plots of size 2 x 6 m. (B) Screenshot of custom-developed software called ChopIt. ChopIt is used for plot segmentation and extraction of CT from each individual plot for statistical analysis. This step takes ca. 20 min for an experiment comprising 1,000 plots of size 2 x 6 m.

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Airborne thermography image acquisition system comprising a helicopter cargo pod with thermal camera and acquisition kit mounted on the skid of a Robinson R44 Ravel helicopter. Photo insert shows the inside of the helicopter cargo pod with arrow denoting FLR® SC645 thermal camera: ±2°C or ±2% of reading; < 0.05°C pixel sensitivity; 640×480 pixels; 0.7 kg without lens.

Abstract

Lower canopy temperature (CT), resulting from increased stomatal conductance, has been associated with increased yield in wheat. Historically, CT has been measured with hand-held infrared thermometers. Using the hand-held CT method on large field trials is problematic, mostly because measurements are confounded by temporal weather changes during the time required to measure all plots. The hand-held CT method is laborious and yet the resulting heritability low, thereby reducing confidence in selection in large scale breeding endeavors. We have developed a reliable and scalable crop phenotyping method for assessing CT in large field experiments. The method involves airborne thermography from a manned helicopter using a radiometrically-calibrated thermal camera. Thermal image data is acquired from large experiments in the order of seconds, thereby enabling simultaneous measurement of CT on potentially 1000s of plots. Effects of temporal weather variation when phenotyping large experiments using hand-held infrared thermometers are therefore reduced. The method is designed for cost-effective and large-scale use by the non-technical user and includes custom-developed software for data processing to obtain CT data on a single-plot basis for analysis. Broad-sense heritability was routinely >0.50, and as high as 0.79, for airborne thermography CT measured near anthesis on a wheat experiment comprising 768 plots of size 2 × 6 m. Image analysis based on the frequency distribution of temperature pixels to remove the possible influence of background soil did not improve broad-sense heritability. Total image acquisition and processing time was ca. 25 min and required only one person (excluding the helicopter pilot). The results indicate the potential to phenotype CT on large populations in genetics studies or for selection within a plant breeding program.

Citation:  Deery DM, Rebetzke GJ, Jimenez-Berni JA, James RA, Condon AG, Bovill WD, Hutchinson P, Scarrow J, Davy R and Furbank RT (2016) Methodology for High-Throughput Field Phenotyping of Canopy Temperature Using Airborne Thermography. Front. Plant Sci. 7:1808. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.01808