Installation and imaging of thousands of minirhizotrons to phenotype root systems of field-grown plants
Ashish Rajurkar, Scott McCoy, Jeremy Ruhter, Jessica Mulcrone, Luke Freyfogle, Andrew DB Leakey
Roots are vital to plant performance because they acquire resources from the soil and provide anchorage. However, it remains difficult to assess root system size and distribution because roots are inaccessible in the soil. Existing methods to phenotype entire root systems range from slow, often destructive, methods applied to relatively small numbers of plants in the field to rapid methods that can be applied to large numbers of plants in controlled environment conditions. Much has been learned
... recently by extensive sampling of the root crown portion of field-grown plants. But, information on large-scale genetic and environmental variation in the size and distribution of root systems in the field remains a key knowledge gap. Minirhizotrons are the only established, non-destructive technology that can address this need in a standard field trial. Prior experiments have used only modest numbers of minirhizotrons, which has limited testing to small numbers of genotypes or environmental conditions. This study addressed the need for methods to install and collect images from thousands of minirhizotrons and thereby help break the phenotyping bottleneck in the field. Results: Over three growing seasons, methods were developed and refined to install and collect images from up to3038 minirhizotrons per experiment. Modifications were made to four tractors and hydraulic soil corers mounted to them. High quality installation was achieved at an average rate of up to 84.4 minirhizotron tubes per tractor per day. A set of four commercially available minirhizotron camera systems were each transported by wheelbarrow to allow collection of images of mature maize root systems at an average rate of up to 65.3 tubes per day per camera. This resulted in over 300,000 images being collected in as little as 11 days for a single experiment. Conclusion: The scale of minirhizotron installation was increased by two orders of magnitude by simultaneously using four tractor-mounted, hydraulic soil corers with modifications to ensure high quality, rapid operation. Image collection can be achieved at the corresponding scale using commercially available minirhizotron camera systems. Along with recent advances in image analysis, these advances will allow use of minirhizotrons at unprecedented scale to address key knowledge gaps regarding genetic and environmental effects on root system size and distribution in the field.