On May 23rd 2017, we headed back to the roots, and hit the road to Jülich Forschungszentrum for a field trip which took us into the world of root phenotyping.
We met up with our guide for the day, Johannes Postma, who studies root architecture and develops simulation models which can predict how root architecture influences nutrient uptake and plant growth. We had the opportunity to present some of our own research, and then it was time to learn all about the research going on at the Plant Sciences division of Jülich Forschungszentrum. Borjana Arsova presented her research on the proteomics of zinc transporters in roots. She studies the sensing and signalling pathways involved in the uptake of zinc (as well as other nutrients such as nitrogen), and how the plant responds to changes in nutrient availability. She presented current experiments she conducts with her PhD student, which test protein regulation by post-translational modifications of the model plant (Brachypodium) under conditions of zinc stress, and when zinc is resupplied. Next, Arned Kuhn presented his research on ‘cool roots’. We all agree of course, roots are cool! Arnd studies the effect of temperature and temperature gradients on root (and shoot) growth in crops such as barley and lettuce. He showed us the experimental set-ups in the greenhouse, where they showed that soil temperature significantly changes the aboveground biomass and root:shoot ratio of lettuce.
Next, Josefine Nestler toured us around the rhizotron set up. Here, she can grow plants in the rhizotrons where a robot photographs their root system at a desired interval. Josefine studies root growth, root hair development, and root response to abiotic stresses in sorghum.
Dagmar van Dusschoten then gave us a tour of the NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance)/MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) set up which allows for non-invasive 3D imaging of root systems. Here, he manages the MRI experiments, working to create the best experimental conditions to study the effects of various abiotic stresses on root architecture and plant growth.
After, Robert Koller spoke to us about his research using MRI and PET (positron emission tomography) scans to trace 11C transport through roots. Robert uses MRI and PET to monitor carbon allocation in roots in response to changes in temperature, water, and nutrient availability. Robert also studies the link between root morphological and functional traits in a variety of environments.
Full of information, and with our eyes open to all the cool tools that are available to help us discover our roots, we headed back to Wageningen. A huge thank you to the researchers at Jülich for your hospitality, and for taking the time to show us your research! A very special thanks to Johannes Postma for organizing, and for leading us through this great day!