Wageningen researchers have built an image analysis robot that lets them accurately measure photosynthesis. The robot is able to measure the photosynthesis of about 1500 plants simultaneously over an entire day.
This will enable plant breeders to select plants for the first time with higher levels of photosynthesis. Researchers Mark Aarts in the Genetics group and Jeremy Harbinson in the Horticulture & Product Physiology group presented the hi-tech robot — the Phenovator — this week in the scientific journal Plant Methods.
The Phenovator takes eight photos of the plants a couple of times a day at different light wavelengths, from deep red to blue light. The extent to which the chloroplasts react to a certain wavelength shows how effective the photosynthesis is at that point in time. The robot uses the images in the other wavelengths to measure the size and colour of all the plants. This lets researchers measure the photosynthesis, growth and movement of the plants day and night.
It was already possible to measure photosynthesis in plants but the techniques were labour-intensive and the results highly dependent on environmental conditions. Aarts and Harbinson use the robot in a climate-controlled chamber in which the environmental conditions can be controlled properly. This means that the photosynthesis measurements are accurate and reliable.
The measurement robot also enables new basic research into the heritability of photosynthesis. Because the robot can monitor large numbers of plants simultaneously, researchers are able to target their search for the genes that are important for photosynthesis. The Phenovator can also measure the influence of other processes, such as light intensity and temperature, on photosynthesis. Aarts and Harbinson are using the instrument for fundamental research. Their photosynthesis research was funded by the technological top institute Green Genetics, the Biosolar Cell project and the Horticulture & Starting Materials top sector.
Co-author Henk Jalink is using the new technique in a Wageningen UR spin-off company, Phenovation, that was recently started up. This company develops and builds instruments for measuring chlorophyll fluorescence, an important yardstick for photosynthesis. The technique can be used for the early detection of plant stress.