UKPPN Root Phenotyping Workshop: April 2016

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Published on: April 15, 2016

The UK Plant Phenotyping Network is a BBSRC sponsored network that has supported meetings and workshops since 2012. A representative from GARNet sits on the UKPPN committee so it was a pleasure to attend the UKPPN Root Phenotyping Meeting that recently took place in the Department of Plant Science at the University of Nottingham.

For someone whose previous research involved growing Arabidopsis plates on agar plates or in controlled growth chambers, this workshop was a real eye-opener as it highlighted the excellent science that is largely aimed at discovering how plant roots interact with their local environment.

This work does mostly not involve Arabdopsis although many of the studies investigate aspects of root growth whose fundamentals have been discovered from lab-studies of the worlds favourite weed. The meeting was hosted by Professor Malcolm Bennett and some of his current Arabidopsis work involves the hydrotropic response which is perfectly aligned to the in-terra studies of how cereal and Brassica roots interact with the available nutrients and water. This work has been facilitated by an amalgamation of research grants that ultimately resulted in the building of the Hounsfield Facility. This purpose built facility contains a generous greenhouse, a human-sized automated robot and three different imagers for CT scanning.

FullSizeRenderThis has allowed a better understanding of how roots interact with soils. However applying more scientific rigour to this process has only been made possible by the analysis software that has been developed at CIPB alongside this imaging technology. During the UKPPN meeting Stefan Mairhofer (CPIB) outlined the development of the Root Phenotyping Pipeline that has allowed researchers to make statistical sense of the CT data that they obtain from the Hounsfield facility. Later in the same session Stefan Gerth (Frauhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits) presented their own technology that they are using for root phenotyping with CT imaging. Finally Erik Esveld (Wageningen) introduces the potential for using XRT imaging to analyse plants grown on drained Rockwool.

Earlier in the day the meeting started with a session on field phenotyping that included an introduction to ‘Shovelomics’ from Tobias Wojciechowski (Julich). He described how they are developing methods for the imaging of whole root systems that have been dug up from the soil. As expected, one difficulty with this work is inconsistency and indeed Tobias showed that the variation between root samples in a plot was greater than that seen between different geographic genotypes isolated from Germany, Norway or Austria. The software that has been developed in house at Julich is able to take 40K images overnight and this data is held in the <a href="http://dirt.iplantcollaborative cialis site officiel.org/welcome” onclick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘outbound-article’, ‘http://dirt.iplantcollaborative.org/welcome’, ‘Digital Imaging of Root Traits’]);” target=”_blank”>Digital Imaging of Root Traits (DIRT) platform,  now being administered through CyVerse. Perhaps there is no greater contrast than the physical digging up plants versus the in silico analysis on CyVerse but perfectly shows the interdiscplinary work occuring in this research area!IMG_9554

The field phenotyping session ended with an enjoyable trip out into the Sutton Bonnington research sites to have demonstrations of Electrical Resistance Tomography by Andrew Binley (this technique allows the measurement of soil water levels) and also Tractor-Mounted Soil Coring from Larry York (which produces soil cores to be used for later root analysis). Pleasingly, the soil water levels predicted by the EMI could be observed in the soil cores.

It might have been unusual for a conference to take people out into the field but it really highlighted the level of challenge that it will take to effectively phenotype a varied field populations of plants!

FullSizeRender_1The second day of the meeting focused on root imaging and modeling, with the audience blown away by the incredible images shown by Jonathan Lynch (Penn State University and University of Nottingham) generated using laser ablation tomography. In this technique root sections are destructively imaged and then digitally reconstituted using 3D software to give fantastic videos that investigate the length of root sections.

Professor Lynch discusses the importance of aerenchyma cells that are found in the cortex of many cereal plants. These essentially empty cells enable a lower overall metabolic cost, therefore clearly benefits the overall energy costs of the plant. Detailed phenotype analysis of aerenchyma has made possible by the RootScan software that has been developed in the PSU Roots lab and is freely available for use.

Later in the session Huw Jones from NIAB described a novel method for the estimation of root biomass. They put together two items that young researchers are told should never mix: soil and PCR. In this technique they perform qPCR on soil samples using primers that are specific for your plant of interest, which allows the approximation of the root biomass within the sample. This technique has also been used to estimate the interactions between plants and weeds across a range of soil depths and struck me as a relatively inexpensive way for this type of analysis, which can provide useful data about the composition of a soil sample.

The keynote talk of the modeling session was Johannes Postma (Julich) who provided an enthusiastic explanation of his attempts to link root phenotypes, soil content and plant biomass. One predicted finding that corresponded with real-life data was that plants with root aerenchyma showed increased biomass in soils with reduced phosphorous. It was excellent to hear this analysis as for much of the meeting the link between root phenotype and yield was not fully made. This is likely to do with the challenges of the imaging technology and the difficulties in fully correlating complex root phenotype with yield.

This meeting demonstrated that the field (pardon the pun) of root phenotyping has great strength especially within the UK, France and Germany. On day one of the meeting Gabriele Pastori (BBSRC) introduced the recently published European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) Roadmap which has “identified the new Research Infrastructures (RI) of pan-European interest corresponding to the long term needs of the European research communities”. Through the work of the UKPPN and others, this document introduces a proposed area of interest in Plant Phenotyping, called EMPHASIS.

EMPHASISThis roadmap is used as an introduction to technologies for which the EU would be interested in developing cross-border infrastructure, by facilitating the legal and financial tools necessary for these type of linkages. At this early stage the EMPHASIS project has no funding associated with it yet the involvement of the BBSRC demonstrates that there is willingness on a national level to discuss future possibilities for funding this area of research. Ultimately any grant funding will come from research bodies within each contributing nation so over the next few years it is encumbent on the UK Plant Phenotyping community to decide how this which occur. Later in the meeting the leader of the French Plant Phenotyping Network (FPPN), Francois Tardieu describes how they have brought together 15 collaborator organisations to tackle phenotyping challenges (see image below)

FPPNThe UK would not look to replicate French or German efforts but rather focus on areas of expertise in which the UK is a world-leader and will provide greatest input toward a pan-European plant phenotyping network. A significant amount of work has already gone into the highlighting of this area for possible European involvement so watch this space to find out how the UKPPN and others can convince UK funders to support this wider initiative.

Overall this was an excellent final meeting of the UKPPN grant and since the first UKPPN gathering the research community has clearly come a long way. It is hoped that the EMPHASIS project and other initiatives will continue to support plant phenotyping across all scales from molecular analysis through to whole field phenotyping and environmental considerations.

Storify of tweets from the meeting put together by the Susie Lydon at CPIB.

COPO 2015 Meeting

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Published on: June 25, 2015

COPO has big plans…. and if it is to be truly successful and benefit the plant community there needs to be a cultural change! That’s the simple if revolutionary message that came out of the recent COPO meeting held at TGAC on June 23rd-24th.

So the uninitiated will be asking: ‘What is COPO?‘ The answer is the Collaborative Open Plant Omics group which was funded by a BBSRC BBR grant in 2014. This is a >£1m collaboration between The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), University of Oxford, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL) and the University of Warwick.

This workshop was to introduce the aims of COPO to a range of stakeholders, from curators of available data repositories to experimentalists who are generating large datasets. By the end of the 2-day session it was hoped that everyone would gain an understanding of what COPO can offer the community with regard facilitating the sharing of large datasets.

White Board Discussions

The workshop was led by Rob Davey (TGAC) and Ruth Bastow (GPC, GARNet, Warwick). Rob kicked off the meeting by describing the aims of COPO which included asking ‘What are the barriers for you and your data and how can COPO facilitate access to the workflows used to analyse data’.

Subsequently a range of stakeholders introduced the fantastic tools that are out there for repositing data of many different types. These included David Salt (University of Aberdeen, Ionomics), Elizabeth Arnaud (Montpellier, CropOntology), David Marshall (James Hutton Institute, Germinate: Plant Genetic Resources), Esther Kabore (INRA, Wheat Data Repository) Reza Salek (EMBL, Metabolights), and finally Tomasz Zielinski (Edinburgh, BioDare) who made the telling observation that ‘data Management is a user interface/user experience problem NOT a software engineering/ data modelling problem’. Many researchers are often reluctant to take the time and effort required to submit their data to an appropriate repository in a reasonable manner, for any number of opaque reasons. However the take-home message from the early talks was very positive as there are a large number of data platforms available for people to use and benefit from. One of the challenges for COPO is to not only to help convince people to use these resources but encourage them to share data in a standardised manner.

Following a useful coffee break it was time for researchers to explain the data they are producing and the challenges for their analysis. Miriam Gifford (Warwick) discussed her generation of transcriptomic data, Christine Sambles (Exeter) talked about developing a workflow for metabolomics data and TGAC group leader Ksenia Krasileva introduced her work on wheat functional genomics. Ksenia also highlighted a new portal for communication between data generators and data users called Grassroot Genomics.

The final three talks of the day highlighted the amount of data that can be produced in different sets of biological experiments. Ji Zhou (TGAC) and Chris Rawlings (Rothamstead) introduced cutting-edge field phenotyping technologies that use large imagers to capture visible and spectral aspects of plant growth. Workshop attendee Professor Peter Murray-Rust summed it up with a tweet: ‘Blown away by the crop monitoring equipment at Rothamstead’. On an opposite end of the spectrum Jim Murray (Cardiff) showed a single fluorescent image of a zebrafish taken on a light-sheet microscope that weighed in at an impressive 23Tb of data. Overall these talks served to highlight the vast amounts of data that can be produced and provided the second take-home message of the day that ‘Getting data is NOT the issue, making any sense of it IS the challenge’……

 

The task of second day discussions was to make sense of what had been presented the previous day and identify the best opportunities for COPO to impact on the process of data sharing. A lively first hour of debate included Dr Philippe Rocca-Serra (COPO Co-PI from Oxford) presenting a somewhat sobering eight slides of ‘Pain Points’ that he had taken out of the previous days presentations! However it was refreshing to observe that the challenge of the task was not underestimated and being tackled with realistic planning.

Pain Points!

Later in the morning discussions turned more specific with a white-board brainstorming session that was divided into ‘Data Collection’.Data Storage’ and ‘Data Analysis’ sections. Most progress was made in the first two sections with a long list of storage repositories identified that bridged the breath of biological data and with which COPO could potentially interact.

It was felt that successful interactions would be predicated on some level of data standardisation so perhaps the most effective initial use of the COPO resources would be to develop a workflow for standard data collection. This would hopefully make experimentalists think about the format of their data submission as they are planning and generating the data. The consensus was that attaching these standards to legacy-data might be a difficult task but that for future data generation, COPO could influence data sharing at this level.

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Ultimately it is clear that plant science has the same generic problems as many other disciplines and the greatest challenge is to change the ‘culture’ of sharing data. The most obvious and direct way to promote this change will be via the funders and publishers. Some progress has been made in this arena with a recent shift towards open access publication in the REF process, and it would only take another small additional step to make it a requirement to share data in any REF-returnable publications. So I hope that those with greater power and influence than me, are reading the GARNet blog!

Regardless of the pace of cultural change, the feeling in the meeting was that the COPO mandate is to encourage data sharing whilst moving to a position to effectively interact with the data that is shared. There is plenty of work to do but at the end of this exploratory workshop the COPO organisers had plenty to think about regarding the direction of the project. Watch their space!

Storify of tweets from the meeting

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