Danforth Plant Science Center

US: $3.5 million facility to conduct genetic screens with a precision never before possible

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center announced the opening of the Bellwether Foundation Phenotyping Facility, further strengthening its imaging and robotics capabilities that accelerate the pace of scientific discovery. The one-of-a-kind facility will automate continuous plant imaging, and provide accurate control over experimental conditions.

"The new facility was built to provide our scientists and collaborators with a best-in-class resource that is unique in the US," said Jim Carrington, president of the Danforth Plant Science Center. "This technology ramps up the pace of scientific discovery, as well as applications that impact agricultural productivity."

The system combines a temperature- and light-controlled plant growth environment with a conveyer system to move plants through three instrument chambers. Real-time measurements of plant growth, photosynthetic ability and water content are captured using three-dimensional imaging techniques. Analysis of image data is done through the high-performance computing capabilities of the Danforth Center's Bioinformatics Core, which was established in 2012.

"This unique facility will enable us to conduct genetic screens with a precision never before possible . The result will be a much better understanding of how genes operate in plants," said Tom Brutnell, Ph.D., director of the Danforth Center's Enterprise Institute for Renewable Fuels.

Initial experiments are designed to understand how bioenergy grasses respond to heat and drought stress. The size of the plant growth chamber and capacity of the conveyor system permit the large number of plants needed for detailed genetic analyses.

The Center collaborated with Conviron and LemnaTech to design and build the Bellwether Phenotyping Facility, which allows non-destructive analysis of up to 1140 small to medium sized plants at multiple points over a desired growth period.

"By controlling the environment for more than 1,100 plants, using automated, high resolution imaging to measure multiple different characteristics over time, we expect to be able to measure the interactions between genes and the environment," said Ivan Baxter, USDA research scientist and principal investigator at the Danforth Plant Science Center.

The facility includes a 680 sq. ft., climate controlled, Conviron growth house, which permits precise control over temperature, humidity and light intensity. The robotic conveyor system moves plants through watering and nutrient stations, in addition to the imaging stations.

The Danforth Center will unveil the new technology to the scientific community during its annual Fall Symposium, to be held September 25 - 27, 2013 at the Center. Funding for the facility was provided in part by through a $1 million gift from The Bellwether Foundation.

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