FUTUREROOTS

A key impediment to genetic analysis of root architecture in crops has been the ability to image live roots in soil non-invasively. Recent advances in microscale X-ray Computed Tomography (μCT) now permit root phenotyping. However, major technical and scientific challenges remain before μCT can become a high throughput phenotyping approach. FUTUREROOTS aims to create a unique high throughput root phenotyping facility that exploits recent advances in μCT imaging, biological image analysis, wheat genetics and mathematical modelling to pinpoint the key genes that control root architecture and develop molecular markers and new crop varieties with improved nutrient and water uptake efficiency.

With funding from the European Research Council, the Wolfson Foundation, BBSRC, and the University of Nottingham we have established a unique platform (the Hounsfield Facility for Rhizosphere Research) which will accommodate ERC funded postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, x-ray imaging research equipment and automated growth facilities in one state-of-the-art building and fully automated greenhouse complex.

hounsfield_west

The Hounsfield Facility

This ambitious multidisciplinary research programme will be achieved through six integrated work packages. The first 3 work packages will create high-throughput μCT (WP1) and image analysis (WP2) tools that will be used to probe variation in root systems architecture within wheat germplasm collections (WP3). Work packages 4-6 will identify root architectures that improve water (WP4) and nitrate uptake efficiencies (WP5) and pinpoint the genes that regulate these traits. In parallel, innovative mathematical models simulating the impact of root architecture and soil properties will be developed as tools to assess the impact of architectural changes on uptake of other nutrients in order to optimise crop performance (WP6).