To drive progress toward higher-yielding crops, a team from the University of Illinois is revolutionising the ability to screen plants for key traits across an entire field, writes Hugo Claver, Web editor for Future Farming, in a recent article.
In two studies – published in the Journal of Experimental Botany (JExBot) and Plant, Cell & Environment (PC&E) – they are making this technology more accessible.
“For plant scientists, this is a major step forward,” said Katherine Meacham-Hensold, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois who led the physiological work on both studies. “Now we can quickly screen thousands of plants to identify the most promising plants to investigate further using another method that provides more in-depth information but requires more time. Sometimes knowing where to look is the biggest challenge, and this research helps address that.”
This work is supported by Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is creating more productive food crops by improving photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yields.
The team analysed data collected with specialised hyperspectral cameras that capture part of the light spectrum (much of which is invisible to the human eye) that is reflected off the surface of plants. Using hyperspectral analysis, scientists can tease out meaningful information from these bands of reflected light to estimate traits related to photosynthesis.
“Through these studies, our team has taken a technology that was out of reach and made it more available to our research community so that we can unearth traits needed to provide farmers all over the world with higher-yielding crops.”
Header picture: University of Illinois Research Technician Evan Dracup (left) and Postdoctoral Researcher Katherine Meacham-Hensold (right) use hyperspectral cameras to screen entire research plots for high-yielding photosynthesis traits. Two recent publications are making this technology available to more scientists. – Photo: Claire Benjamin/RIPE project