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Growth chamber system ‘test drives’ new varieties

Cameras can detect and quantify signals produced by plants

Following the lead of automakers who torture test their cars on special tracks that simulate real driving conditions, researchers at Michigan State University have developed a system to test drive new plant varieties before they reach the field.

Called DEPI — Dynamic Environmental Photosynthetic Imaging — the system uses sensors, cameras and software to reproduce real-world conditions in a growth chamber.

The researchers can play with light intensities and durations or replay past weather patterns — down to the exact daily fluctuations — or run models of new ones that anticipate the impacts of climate change.

“With DEPI and all of its specialized equipment, we can make videos of a plant’s living processes,” David Kramer, an MSU professor in photosynthesis and bioenergetics said in a release. “One way to make better plants is to test drive a range of plants with different genes and determine which genes, or combination of genes, make the plant better in different environmental conditions.”

The chamber’s special cameras can detect and quantify visible signals produced in real time by plants during photosynthesis.

While traditional methods rely on sensors applied to a single leaf at a single point in time, DEPI reveals what is happening in the whole plant, over an unlimited time period, said Jeff Cruz, director of MSU’s Center for Advanced Algal and Plant Phenotyping.

“As a result, plants are demonstrating a whole range of new processes, most notably varying behaviours under dynamic environmental conditions, such as when light changes rapidly as it might do on a windy day with partially cloudy skies,” he said.

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