Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Root phenomics of crops: opportunities and challenges

Peter J. Gregory A D , A. Glyn Bengough A , Dmitri Grinev B , Sonja Schmidt A , W. (Bill) T. B. Thomas A , Tobias Wojciechowski A and Iain M. Young B C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A SCRI (Scottish Crop Research Institute), Invergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, UK.

B SIMBIOS, University of Abertay, Bell Street, Dundee DD1 1HG, UK.

C Present address: School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: peter.gregory@scri.ac.uk

This paper originates from a presentation at the 1st International Plant Phenomics Symposium, Canberra, Australia, April 2009.

Functional Plant Biology 36(11) 922-929 https://doi.org/10.1071/FP09150
Submitted: 11 June 2009  Accepted: 8 July 2009   Published: 5 November 2009

Abstract

Reliable techniques for screening large numbers of plants for root traits are still being developed, but include aeroponic, hydroponic and agar plate systems. Coupled with digital cameras and image analysis software, these systems permit the rapid measurement of root numbers, length and diameter in moderate (typically <1000) numbers of plants. Usually such systems are employed with relatively small seedlings, and information is recorded in 2D. Recent developments in X-ray microtomography have facilitated 3D non-invasive measurement of small root systems grown in solid media, allowing angular distributions to be obtained in addition to numbers and length. However, because of the time taken to scan samples, only a small number can be screened (typically <10 per day, not including analysis time of the large spatial datasets generated) and, depending on sample size, limited resolution may mean that fine roots remain unresolved. Although agar plates allow differences between lines and genotypes to be discerned in young seedlings, the rank order may not be the same when the same materials are grown in solid media. For example, root length of dwarfing wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) lines grown on agar plates was increased by ~40% relative to wild-type and semi-dwarfing lines, but in a sandy loam soil under well watered conditions it was decreased by 24–33%. Such differences in ranking suggest that significant soil environment–genotype interactions are occurring. Developments in instruments and software mean that a combination of high-throughput simple screens and more in-depth examination of root–soil interactions is becoming viable.

Additional keywords: barley, gel chambers, genotypic variation, root architecture, root length, root QTLs, wheat, X-ray tomography.


Acknowledgements

Research at SCRI is supported by a program grant from the Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Directorate of the Scottish Government. Financial support for TW is from SCRI and the University of Reading and for SS from SCRI and the University of Abertay. We are grateful to Professor Philip White for Fig. 1 and Dr Derek Read for Fig. 3.


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