Plant and computer scientists can now study the underground world of plants with more accuracy and clarity. The revolutionary technique will improve our chances of breeding better crop varieties and increasing yields.
Developed at The University of Nottingham by a team of experts from the Schools of Biosciences and Computer Science, the new approach is based on the same X-ray technology used in hospital CT scans and incorporates new image analysis software which, for the first time, can automatically distinguish plant roots from the other materials found in soil.
The results of this research, which has already been demonstrated on the roots of maize, wheat and tomato, have been published in the international scientific journal Plant Physiology.
The interdisciplinary team of scientists from the Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) used X-ray Micro Computed Tomography (Micro-CT) to look at the shape and branching pattern the architecture of roots in soil. The data was then fed into the new RooTrak software which overcomes the problem of distinguishing between roots and other elements of the soil.
Breakthrough for food security
Dr Sacha Mooney, an expert in soil physics in the School of Biosciences, said: "This technique is a hugely important advance. The application of X-ray CT for visualising roots has been limited because we simply couldn't see a large portion of the root structure. RooTrak has enabled us to overcome this and has opened up the use of the technology for exploring the key questions regarding how we can manipulate plants and soils for improving our food security."
The RooTrak software works by taking a stack of virtual slices through the root-bearing soil. It treats each slice as a frame in a movie, so that static roots in each slice are treated as moving objects which can be tracked. This allows the software to differentiate between root and water or organic elements i
|Contact: Lindsay Brooke |
University of Nottingham