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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.

Collaborating for the common good: CIMMYT and CSIRO meet to capitalise on strengths

Plant scientists around the world share a common goal:  understanding plants to improve their tolerance of environmental stresses, resist disease and ultimately, increase yield. Global collaborations that share knowledge and technology are rich in experience and are essential to help accelerate our understanding to meet future challenges.

A recent meeting in El Batán, Mexico, is an excellent example of great minds coming together. Three team members from the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility joined host institution, CSIRO, and CIMMYT in a two-day workshop aimed at achieving critical steps towards a common framework for field phenotyping techniques, data interoperability and sharing experience.

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Front row:  Warren Creemers (4th from left), Xavier Sirault (5th) and Michael Schaefer (7th)

“Capitalising on our respective strengths, we developed basic concepts for several collaborations in physiology and breeding, and will follow up within ongoing projects and through pursuit of new funding,” said Matthew Reynolds, CIMMYT wheat physiologist, signaling the following:

  • Comparison of technologies to estimate key crop traits, including GreenSeeker and hyperspectral images, IR thermometry, digital imagery and LiDAR approaches, while testing and validating prediction of phenotypic traits using UAV (drone) imagery.
  • Study of major differences between spike and leaf photosynthesis, and attempts to standardise gas exchange between field and controlled environments.
  • Work with breeders to screen advanced lines for photosynthetic traits in breeding nurseries, including proof of concept to link higher photosynthetic efficiency/performance to biomass accumulation.
  • Validation/testing of wheat simulation model for efficient use of radiation.
  • Evaluation of opportunities to provide environment characterisation of phenotyping platforms, including systematic field/soil mapping to help design plot and treatment layouts, considering bioassays from aerial images as well as soil characteristics such as pH, salinity, and others.
  • Testing the heritability of phenotypic expression from parents to their higher-yielding progeny in both Mexico and Australia.
  • Extraction of new remote sensed traits (e.g., number of heads per plot) from aerial images by machine learning (ML) of scored traits by breeders and use of ML to teach those to the algorithm.
  • Demonstrating a semantic data framework’s use in identifying specific genotypes for strategic crossing, based on phenotypes.
  • Exchanging suitable data sets to test the interoperability of available data management tools, focusing on the suitability of the Phenomics Ontology Driven Data (PODD) platform for phenotypic data exchanges, integration, and retrieval.

CSIRO and CIMMYT share a long history in crop modelling and physiology, spanning more than 40 years. CIMMYT works throughout the developing world to improve livelihoods and foster more productive, sustainable maize and wheat farming. The centre’s portfolio squarely targets critical challenges, including food insecurity and malnutrition, climate change and environmental degradation. Through collaborative research, partnerships, and training, the centre helps to build and strengthen a new generation of national agricultural research and extension services in maize- and wheat-growing nations. As a member of the CGIAR System composed of 15 agricultural research centres, CIMMYT leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat, which align and add value to the efforts of more than 500 partners.

 

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.

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 be viewed online here (2:30min).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.