xavier sirault

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)

 

 

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!

 

 

What the experts are saying about plant phenotyping and food security

‘It takes a village to raise a child’ states the age-old saying, but now it will take a village to feed the child as well – if we’re smart.

“Agriculture’s critical challenges of providing food security and better nutrition in the face of climate change can only be met through global communities that share knowledge and outputs; looking inward will not lead to results,” said Ulrich Schurr, Director of the Institute of Bio- and Geosciences of the Forschungszentrum Jülich and Chair of the International Plant Phenotyping Network (IPPN), speaking at the 4th International Plant Phenotyping Symposium in Mexico recently.

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Dr Jose Jimenez-Berni (keynote speaker), Dr Xavier Sirault (Co-Chair IPPN), Dr Trevor Garnett and Dr Bettina Berger from the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility at the symposium

200 world-class scientists from over 20 countries gathered from 13 to 15 December 2016 to share knowledge and technology at the symposium, co-hosted by IPPN and the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT.

The symposium was attended by Dr Bettina Berger, Dr Trevor Garnett, Dr Xavier Sirault and Dr Jose Jimenez-Berni from the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF). Dr Sirault is also Co-Chair of the IPPN and Dr Jimenez-Berni gave a keynote lecture on field phenotyping techniques developed at the High Resolution Plant Phenomics Facility (HRPPC) node of the APPF and how they can be applied to screen for plant development including biomass and canopy architecture in the field.

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Dr Jimenez-Berni (APPF) delivering his keynote lecture at the symposium

The symposium focused on three themes:

  • Advances in Plant Phenotyping Technologies to explore the frontiers of what can be sensed remotely and other technological breakthroughs.
  • Phenotyping for Crop Improvement to consider the application of phenotyping technologies for crop improvement (breeding, crop husbandry, and estimating the productivity of agro-ecosystems).
  • Adding Value to Phenotypic Data to review how phenomics and genomics can combine to improve crop simulation models and breeding methodologies (e.g., genomic selection).

Read the full article ‘Harnessing medical technology and global partnerships to drive gains in food crop productivity’ written by Mike Listman on CIMMYT’s website.

Read more excellent plant science articles by Mike Listman here.