Thursday, 6 August 2009

Subsoil Imaging of Root Function

Motivation and Drivers

In the face of climate change the ability to rapidly identify new plant varieties that will be tolerant to drought, and other stresses, is going to be key to breeding the food crops of tomorrow. Currently, above soil features (phenotypes) are monitored in industrial greenhouses and field trials during seed breeding programmes so as to provide an indication of which plants have the most likely preferential genetics to thrive in the future global environments. These indicators of “plant vigour” are often based on loosely related features which may be straightforward to examine, such as an additional ear of corn on a maize plant, but which are labour intensive and lacking in direct linkage to the required crop features.


This project will deliver a new visualisation tool for seed breeders which will provide them with a 24/7 signal from each and every plant in a screening programme indicating how efficiently the root bundles are in drawing upon the water and nutrients in the soil.

Expected End Result

An industrial glasshouse scale screening tool for early isolation and delivery of tomorrow's climate tolerant food crops.

Research Undertaken so Far

Existing electrical imaging instrumentation has been integrated into crop growth studies under highly controlled soil, nutrient and environmental conditions. These early studies have verified the proof-of-concept and given the research team an understanding of the breadth of technical challenges that must now be addressed to take the current medical and process plant based instrumentation into the new world of agriscience and food supply. This will require plant geneticists, chemical engineers, field study managers, applied mathematicians and electronic engineers to work in close collaboration to meet the new goal.

Next Steps

Within the next 6 months the team will implement and characterise a next generation of electrical imaging instrumentation which has been designed to meet the specific needs of subsoil imaging for plant root function. The tests will be carried out under highly controlled conditions using a single genetic strain of plants and the subsequent findings will then be integrated into a larger research programme. This will optimise the instrumentation to enable their use with a wide range of soil structures, irrigation profiles and plant species. In addition the soft-field image reconstruction will be fused with theoretical models for soil mobility and plant physiology in order to reduce the ill-posed nature and increase the fidelity of the root phenotype information.

Research Partners and Principal Contacts

Dr Anil Day, Faculty of Lifesciences, University of Manchester, UK
Prof Trevor York, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Manchester, UK
Prof Bill Lionheart, School of Mathematics, University of Manchester, UK
Dr Sacha Mooney, Centre for Integrative Plant Biology, University of Nottingham, UK
Dr Ryan Ramsey, Jealotts Hill International Research Centre, Syngenta, UK

Would you like to become a research partner? Are there other aspects of this research that we should be bringing in?