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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