UF/IFAS PlantArray System

GAINESVILLE, FL – As a land-grant institution, part of the UF/IFAS mission is conducting research, a process that often takes a lot of time. A new technology at UF/IFAS Research, the PlantArray, is helping to accelerate field-trial time requirements, bringing impacts to growers and consumers faster.

This futuristic phenotyping platform can measure plant growth and stress under different environmental conditions. The fully-automated system uses sensors to accurately assess plant responses to both soil and air conditions. Developed in Israel, the PlantArray allows researchers to easily perform a variety of tests in about half the time of a field trial. Each pot has a micro-controller, or minicomputer, attached and information is sent to a centralized computer that documents plant changes. Measurements examined include the plant’s weight, growth rates, water loss, and water-use efficiency. Director of the UF PlantArray, Dr. William Hammond, says this system will help reduce the time needed to find which plants will be best suited to both grow and survive under future climatic conditions:

When you can get data coming off of each one of these computerized digital pots every three minutes, we can get insights in near real time into how the plants are using the water, how rapidly the plants are gaining carbon from Earth’s atmosphere, and this can help us make some decisions about maybe which particular plants are gonna perform best or worst without having to wait that plant’s entire life cycle or without having to do an entire, multiple month’s long field trial.”

The PlantArray is made up of fully independent modules that provide enormous flexibility to adjust experimental designs to the needs of each user. Each configuration can be vastly different from others. It took Dr. Gerard Sapes, the PlantArray’s manager, the better part of six months to build, configure, code, and launch the system. Sapes says the PlantArray can revolutionize the way research is done and attract grants to further expand the system and its research capabilities:

I see a lot of potential, for improving our ability to assess plant performance, both in terms of production as well as climate resilience.”

Climate resilience is an important area of research for the future of plants, the planet, and people. All plants have traits that make them resilient or vulnerable to stress: attributes that demonstrate which plants might survive climate changes such as droughts or heat waves. PlantArray experiments can mimic stressful environments and the data can be used to unveil the characteristics that will make plants more resilient to such stressors. Hammond says: “We’re really excited to have the PlantArray as a resource that we can use in these projects which allows us to kind of, take the lead and helping improve the climate resilience of the plants that are being grown, agriculturally here in Florida.”

The PlantArray’s impact could be felt beyond the state of Florida, thanks to Hammond’s and Sapes’ mechanistic approach to research. Mechanism-based PlantArray experiments could quickly identify candidate species and varieties from all over the country that are likely to succeed in field tests. Hammond adds:

We’re still going to need to, after screening on the array, do field trials. We’re gonna need to put plants, in high replication, out in various soil types and in different fields and validate that some of the insights coming off of the array, are bearing production and sometimes literal fruit, in the field. But it’s got a lot of promise and I think it can really help us kind of accelerate that process of getting to the stage where we’re trying to test things out and make actual recommendations. And there are a lot of faculty here at UF that work on that more applied side, and we’re really excited to use this facility to kind of like accelerate that, alongside and in collaboration with them.”

For more information on the UF/IFAS PlantArray system, contact Dr. William Hammond at williamhammond@ufl.edu


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Posted: September 7, 2023

Category: AGRICULTURE, , UF/IFAS Research, UF/IFAS Research
Tags: Growing Plant Research, Plants

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