An Introduction to Synthetic Biology for Plant Researchers

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Published on: February 20, 2013


Synthetic biology is a fast-growing research area both in the UK and further afield and UK policy makers and funders are taking it very seriously. In November last year, George Osborne announced a £20 million investment for Synthetic Biology and as a result Synthetic Biology is one of the few research areas in the BBSRC portfolio to receive an increase in funding. This is in addition to the numerous schemes that are already supporting Synthetic Biology (including BBSRC, EPSRC and TSB). 

To make sure that UK plant researchers can make the most of these funding opportunities, GARNet is hosting a meeting to introduce the concept of Synthetic Biology and the many and varied applications of Synthetic Biology at the molecular, cell and whole plant level.

Like Systems Biology before it, Synthetic Biology can be viewed as both a tool and a scientific approach for understanding and furthering basic science and as a means of developing commercially important plant products. Synthetic Biology in plants is under-researched, but has enormous potential and it is time for UK scientists of all disciplines to explore it.

So to make sure you understand what Synthetic Biology is and how you might apply to your research area, make sure you register for An Introduction to Opportunities in Plant Synthetic Biology. For more information go to: Please note that registration fee covers the cost of accommodation and meals during the meeting

To help us promote the meeting, please print out this poster and put it up in your department. Please also forward this email to anyone from other departments you think will be interested.

How many ways can you measure a plant?

Categories: GARNet, guest blogger, methods
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Published on: January 8, 2013

In December, Ruth gave a talk at the Julich Plant Phenotyping Centre – here she explains what’s going on in plant phenotyping at the moment. 

Recently I had the opportunity to visit and talk at the Julich Plant Phenotyping Centre in Germany and see the wealth of tools and technologies that the centre has available to measure and analyse plant growth and development in a non invasive manner. By using a range of sensors and computer vision tools for quantifying plant traits the centre aims to help overcome the current bottleneck in effectively linking genotype to phenotype.

As a mere amateur in this field, I used CCD cameras during my Ph.D to monitor circadian rhythms and during my post-docs I just counted leaves to determine flowering time. I was amazed by the depth and breadth of analysis that can now be carried out, and on such a large scale.

For example their purpose built automated Rhizo screen enables researchers to non-invasively obtain quantitative measurements of root architectures of plants grown in soil in 2D as well as evaluating shoot area. Whilst a variety of spectral and optical imaging systems sensitive to a wide range of wavelengths provide a plethora information from chlorophyll fluorescence, water content, lignin and cellulose composition to growth dynamics via leaf area. The centre also has a NMR, MRI and PET setup to visualize the inner structure of plant organs and tissue and transport of substances such as CO2. (Fiorani et al. Imaging plants dynamics in heterogenic environments. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 23: 227-235).

Julich is just one of a number of phenotyping centres that are being established all over Europe, including the UK centre at Aberystwyth. The major European centres have been linked together in the European Plant Phenotyping Network (EPPN). This network offers access to 23 different plant phenotpying facilities spread across the EU. So if you haven’t experienced the power of phenomics yet this might be one way to dip your toe in phenotyping water!

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