Monitoring Plant Root Health with Advanced Sensors and AI

Greg Howard
1st February, 2024

Monitoring Plant Root Health with Advanced Sensors and AI

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Plants are living, dynamic systems that constantly interact with their environment. To better understand these interactions, especially those occurring in the critical but often ignored root zone, scientists have developed a new technology, TETRIS, which stands for 'time-resolved electrochemical technology for plant root environment in situ chemical sensing.' This innovative system can continuously monitor and measure the chemical signals in the plant root environment in real time. Traditionally, scientists have relied on taking single measurements at a given time to study chemical responses in plants. This method, however, doesn't capture the full complexity and ongoing changes that are characteristic of living plant systems. TETRIS changes this by providing a way for researchers to observe what's happening with plant chemistry at any given moment. The TETRIS system uses affordable, scalable screen-printed electrochemical sensors that can simultaneously monitor different chemicals such as salts, pH levels, and hydrogen peroxide in the immediate vicinity of a plant's roots. By using several sensors at once, TETRIS can keep track of multiple chemical signals, which is essential to understanding how plants are taking up nutrients or responding to environmental stress. To demonstrate its capabilities, TETRIS was put to the test with various plant species – tomato, kale, and rice. The system was successful in distinguishing the differences in how these plants took up nutrients and heavy metals from the soil. Furthermore, TETRIS also monitored changes in ion uptake when the plants were treated with LaCl3, an ion channel blocker, which can be used to study how plant ion channels function under different conditions. A particularly innovative feature of TETRIS is its ability to combine with machine learning algorithms. By doing so, it can predict patterns of ion uptake, making the system not just a monitoring tool but a predictive one that can be extremely useful in agricultural research. The introduction of TETRIS could represent a significant leap forward in high-throughput screening, which is a method used to evaluate a large number of biological samples quickly. This is notably important in efforts to breed plant varieties that yield more and are more resilient to environmental stresses, such as drought or soil contamination. Overall, TETRIS presents a powerful new way to study plants closely and continually, which may contribute to advancements in agriculture, sustainability, and our understanding of plant biology. The research, which involves TETRIS, comes from scientists at Imperial College London. The potential applications of this technology extend far beyond the realm of basic research and hold promise for addressing some of the urgent challenges in global food production.

BiotechPlant ScienceAgriculture

References

Main Study

1) Time-resolved chemical monitoring of whole plant roots with printed electrochemical sensors and machine learning.

Published 2nd February, 2024 (future Journal edition)

https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adj6315



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