Software gets to the root of the problem

A team of researchers at the University of Nottingham (Nottingham, UK) has developed image analysis software that can automatically distinguish plant roots from other materials found in soil.

Feb 20th, 2012
Image analysis software can automatically distinguish plant roots from other materials found in soil.
Image analysis software can automatically distinguish plant roots from other materials found in soil.

A team of researchers at the University of Nottingham (Nottingham, UK) has developed image analysis software that can automatically distinguish plant roots from other materials found in soil.

The interdisciplinary team of scientists from the Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) used X-ray Micro Computed Tomography (μCT) to look at the shape and branching patterns of roots in soil. The data was then fed into the new “RooTrak” software which overcomes the problem of distinguishing between roots and other elements.

To do so, the RooTrak software works by taking a stack of virtual CT slices through the root-bearing soil. It treats each slice as a frame in a movie, so that static roots in each slice are treated as moving objects which can be tracked. This allows the software to differentiate between root and water or organic elements in the soil. The detailed accurate root architecture can then be seen in three dimensions.

The researchers have proven the effectiveness of the RooTrak software using μCT scans of maize, wheat, and tomato grown in a range of contrasting soil textures. The results demonstrate that the software can successfully extract a range of root architectures from the surrounding soil.

The team has just been awarded a €3.5m (nearly £3m) five year European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator Grant to use the new software in conjunction with microCT-based imaging to image wheat roots, in a move that will enable them to select new agricultural varieties that are more efficient at water and nutrient uptake.

The results of their research have been published in the international scientific journal Plant Physiology.

-- By Dave Wilson, Senior Editor, Vision Systems Design

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