Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
REVIEW (Open Access)

The art of growing plants for experimental purposes: a practical guide for the plant biologist

Hendrik Poorter A J , Fabio Fiorani A , Mark Stitt B , Uli Schurr A , Alex Finck B , Yves Gibon C , Björn Usadel D A , Rana Munns E F , Owen K. Atkin G , François Tardieu H and Thijs L. Pons I

A Plant Sciences (IBG-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich, D-52425 Jülich, Germany.

B Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Am Mühlenberg 1, D-14476 Golm, Germany.

C INRA, Univ. Bordeaux, UMR1332 Biologie du Fruit et Pathologie, 71 Avenue Edouard Bourlaux, F-33883 Villenave d’Ornon, France.

D RWTH Aachen, Worringer Weg 1, 52074 Aachen, Germany.

E CSIRO Plant Industry, GPO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

F School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

G Division of Plant Sciences, Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

H INRA, Laboratoire d’Ecophysiologie des Plantes sous Stress Environnementaux, 2 Place Viala, F-34820 Montpellier, France.

I Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University, PO Box 800.84, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands.

J Corresponding author. Email: h.poorter@fz-juelich.de

Functional Plant Biology 39(11) 821-838 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP12028
Submitted: 24 January 2012  Accepted: 19 March 2012   Published: 15 June 2012

Abstract

Every year thousands of experiments are conducted using plants grown under more-or-less controlled environmental conditions. The aim of many such experiments is to compare the phenotype of different species or genotypes in a specific environment, or to study plant performance under a range of suboptimal conditions. Our paper aims to bring together the minimum knowledge necessary for a plant biologist to set up such experiments and apply the environmental conditions that are appropriate to answer the questions of interest. We first focus on the basic choices that have to be made with regard to the experimental setup (e.g. where are the plants grown; what rooting medium; what pot size). Second, we present practical considerations concerning the number of plants that have to be analysed considering the variability in plant material and the required precision. Third, we discuss eight of the most important environmental factors for plant growth (light quantity, light quality, CO2, nutrients, air humidity, water, temperature and salinity); what critical issues should be taken into account to ensure proper growth conditions in controlled environments and which specific aspects need attention if plants are challenged with a certain a-biotic stress factor. Finally, we propose a simple checklist that could be used for tracking and reporting experimental conditions.

Additional keywords: controlled experiments, environmental conditions, glasshouse, growth chamber, plant growth, stress.


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