Portable synchrotron to assist plant imaging

This synchrotron method allows us to analyze plants in vivo, meaning that we don’t need to  take out organs from plants and analyze many aspects in live and intact plants. This can exclude the loss of elements  during sample preparation, says Dr. Brian Ham of the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS). usask.ca/Olufunke Okochi photo

The smaller machine can be brought into greenhouses and take pressure off the beam lines at the Canadian Light Source

The Global Institute for Food Security at the University of Saskatchewan is using synchrotron technology as a way to look more closely at plants.

By capturing these images of the plants, they will be able to make crop breeding more efficient.

The synchrotron that is being used is semi-portable, the first ever designed to be so.

Jean Claude Kieffer with the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) was involved with the creation of the semi-portable synchrotron.

“My initial motivation was to develop a novel imaging tool for bio-medical applications,” Kieffer said. “However, during discussions with my colleague Emil Hallin in 2011 we realized that this X-ray source had very interesting parameters for plant imaging. There is a need for a stand-alone system dedicated for plant and seed imaging.”

Kieffer created the portable synchrotron with plant imaging in mind. Throughout the years, he also worked in collaboration with GIFS for plant imaging.

“The X-ray parameter scaling, the best compromise between system complexity and system performance, foot-print and cost, brings us to a well-defined design and portable system that you cannot achieve with a regular synchrotron,” Kieffer said.

“A dedicated high throughput plant imaging facility will enable more efficient use of highly oversubscribed regular synchrotron (Canadian Light Source) beam lines, and will enable experiments in plant science that require flexible and timely scheduling of structure determination in conjunction with complementary investigations at the regular synchrotron, enabling sophisticated experiments that are either difficult or impossible to schedule right now.”

Brian Ham, a researcher at GIFS, has been working on this research.

“So we can bring this small size synchrotron into greenhouses for plant imaging,” Ham said. “We have a prototype of an image platform with the laser wakefield technology and tested our platform to get the preliminary result. But we need to improve our system to make 3-D imaging.”

The portable synchrotron allows Ham and his fellow researchers to look at the plant without removing it from the ground or taking it apart. With a regular synchrotron, plants have to be brought to the machine. Now, the machine can be brought to the plant, allowing researchers to analyze it while it is still growing.

“This synchrotron method allows us to analyze plants in vivo, meaning that we don’t need to take out organs from plants and analyze many aspects in live and intact plants. This can exclude the loss of elements during sample preparation,” Ham said.

Although they haven’t got too far into the research, Ham said what they’ve done is promising.

“Much of my research has been focused on profiling signalling components in the plant vascular tissues and characterizing their means of transport within plants,” Ham said. “Our research program is to understand molecular, cellular and biochemical mechanisms regulating mineral nutrient-stress signalling.

“So far we have identified sort of important aspects and factors to govern mineral nutrient stress in plants and now have been working on how to apply our findings into various agriculture plants.”

Kieffer said he believes the research that can be done with the portable synchrotron will benefit farmers and other aspects of agricultural research.

“Effective and timely structural characterization of plant breeders’ plant lines with penetrating radiation will often highlight specific internal features for further investigation; correlating these features with element and chemical state specific abundance maps may aid in understanding the role these features play in enhancing plant performance,” he said.

Ham echoed this statement.

“Our knowledge of this project will serve as a critical resource for guiding plant breeding programs; our ultimate goal is to develop elite crop lines with sustainable yield potential and enhanced nutrient usage efficiency under reduced levels of fertilizer input. It will make an agriculture producer reduce fertilizer costs, but get the same amount and quality of produce.”

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