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ISU engineer builds instrument to study effects of genes, environment on plant traits
Date:3/25/2014

AMES, Iowa Let's say plant scientists want to develop new lines of corn that will better tolerate long stretches of hot, dry weather.

How can they precisely assess the performance of those new plants in different environmental conditions? Field tests can provide some answers. Greenhouse tests can provide some more. But how can plant scientists get a true picture of a plant's growth and traits under a wide variety of controlled environmental conditions?

That job has been too big and too precise for most laboratories. There are a few labs around the world that can do the work, but the studies are expensive, limited and require time and labor. There hasn't been an accessible test instrument with enough scale, flexibility and resolution to produce all the data scientists need, said Liang Dong, an Iowa State University associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

That has Dong leading a research team that includes Namrata Vaswani, an Iowa State associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Maneesha Aluru, formerly of Iowa State and now a senior research scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; three doctoral students and four undergraduates who are all working to build a high-tech solution for plant scientists. His idea is a greenhouse on a chip an instrument that incorporates miniature greenhouses, microfluidic technologies that precisely control growing conditions and big data tools that help analyze plant information.

He calls his instrument a "transformative leap" in the study of plant phenotypes the look, size, color, development and other observable traits of plants.

"The instrumentation will make breakthroughs toward solving grand-challenging, large-scale problems in the field of phenomics," Dong said. "We are building resources to benefit plant biology researchers and hopefully the new instrumentation will create a paradigm shift in the plant phenomics area by
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Contact: Liang Dong
ldong@iastate.edu
515-294-0388
Iowa State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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