Automakers torture test their cars on special tracks that simulate real driving conditions. Germany's automakers have their fabled Nurburgring track. GM has its Desert Proving Ground in California. Now Michigan State University has DEPI - Dynamic Environmental Photosynthetic Imaging - to test-drive plants so scientists and plant breeders can make them work better and produce more.
Many car companies push test models to their limits at Nurburgring before selling them off the showroom floor. For scientists, standard laboratory conditions and reproducible experimental designs have provided much of their understanding of photosynthesis. However, to truly understand one of the world's most-robust biological processes - and many other plant mechanisms - MSU researchers have brought nature to the lab.
The promising capabilities of DEPI are featured on the cover of the current issue of Cell Systems. DEPI will help scientists make better plants by allowing researchers to systematically explore the effects of real-world conditions using sophisticated sensors, cameras, software and more.
"With DEPI and all of its specialized equipment, we can make videos of a plants' living processes," said David Kramer, Hannah Distinguished Professor in Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory and the paper's co-author. "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."
For decades, scientists have been dissecting complex processes like photosynthesis into component parts that are much simpler to study. Focusing on an element, though, can lead to missing what's happening to the entire plant.
Photosynthesis is highly sensitive to rapid changes in environmental conditions like light, temperature, humidity, the availability of water and nutrients etc. Even more critically, when the plant cannot properly control photosynthesis under these conditions, it can produce toxic side reactions that can damage or kill it, leading to loss of yield.
"We now suspect that many, if not most, of the genes in a plant are there to help it cope with environmental changes and perils," Kramer said. "And although we know much about the core machinery of photosynthesis, we have very little idea what these other genes do. Yet these are the very components that not only keep photosynthesis working efficiently but also keep it from killing the plant."
DEPI will not only help shed light on many of these mysteries, but it also will be able to do it at a relatively large scale. Kramer has 16 DEPI's in the MSU Center for Advanced Algal and Plant Phenotyping. In a single DEPI, and its roomy chamber, it can monitor hundreds of plants at the same time.
Scientists 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. 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 and the paper's lead author.
"As a result, plants are demonstrating a whole range of new processes, most notably varying behaviors under dynamic environmental conditions, such as when light changes rapidly as it might do on a windy day with partially cloudy skies," he said. "Because these simulated conditions are reproducible in DEPI and because of our sophisticated monitors, we can study these processes with high precision and in great detail."
Kramer's research is funded in part by the Department of Energy Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.
Additional MSU scientists contributing to the research include Linda Savage, Robert Zegarac, Christopher Hall, Mio Cruz, Geoffry Davis, Wm. Kent Kovac and Jin Chen.
Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.
For MSU news on the Web, go to MSUToday. Follow MSU News on Twitter at twitter.com/MSUnews
Layne Cameron | EurekAlert!
Faba fix for corn's nitrogen need
11.04.2018 | American Society of Agronomy
Wheat research discovery yields genetic secrets that could shape future crops
09.04.2018 | John Innes Centre
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
In an article that appears in the journal “Review of Modern Physics”, researchers at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) assess the current state of the field of ultrafast physics and consider its implications for future technologies.
Physicists can now control light in both time and space with hitherto unimagined precision. This is particularly true for the ability to generate ultrashort...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
19.04.2018 | Materials Sciences
19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy