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Advances in Plant Research Could Benefit Growers

A facility in Adelaide, South Australia is now offering a faster plant research technique to organizations interested in speeding up their studies.

The Plant Accelerator is an automated facility that is capable of monitoring thousands of plants per day, using cameras and miles of conveyor belt.

One team of researchers looking to design a rice that’s more resistant to salty conditions described how the system helped their research. “It meant we didn’t have to kill the plants, cut them off, put them on scales and weigh them, which is what you traditionally had to do,” said scientific director Bettina Berger. “We grew over 500 genotypes of rice for this study and looked at the one that grew best under salt, ultimately finding the gene that was more salt tolerant.”

As the plants travel the facility, a range of different cameras measure temperature, water absorption, color, shoot mass, size, health and the physical traits of the plants, including weight. By combining data on relative growth rate, transpiration rate, and transpiration use efficiency, researchers can search for genes being activated in relation to specific plant traits.

“This enables scientists to study novel aspects of crop tolerance to stress, which often requires measurements over time instead of single time points,” Dr. Berger said. The facility houses between 20 and 25 projects per year, including international studies from around the world.

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