Danforth Plant Science Center Adds $3.5 Million, One-of-a-Kind Plant Phenotyping Facility to Its Core Technologies

Advanced imaging and robotics will accelerate discovery.

St. Louis, MO, September 20, 2013 --(PR.com)-- The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center today announced the opening of the Bellwether Foundation Phenotyping Facility, further strengthening its imaging and robotics capabilities that accelerate the pace of scientific discovery. The one-of-a-kind facility will automate continuous plant imaging, and provide accurate control over experimental conditions.

“The new facility was built to provide our scientists and collaborators with a best-in-class resource that is unique in the U.S.,” said Jim Carrington, President of the Danforth Plant Science Center. “This technology ramps up the pace of scientific discovery, as well as applications that impact agricultural productivity.”

The system combines a temperature and light-controlled plant growth environment with a conveyer system to move plants through three instrument chambers. Real-time measurements of plant growth, photosynthetic ability and water content are captured using three-dimensional imaging techniques. Analysis of image data is done through the high-performance computing capabilities of the Danforth Center’s Bioinformatics Core, which was established in 2012.

“This unique facility will enable us to conduct genetic screens with a precision never before possible. The result will be a much better understanding of how genes operate in plants," said Tom Brutnell, Ph.D., director of the Danforth Center’s Enterprise Institute for Renewable Fuels.

Initial experiments are designed to understand how bioenergy grasses respond to heat and drought stress. The size of the plant growth chamber and capacity of the conveyor system permit the large number of plants needed for detailed genetic analyses.

The Center collaborated with Conviron and LemnaTech to design and build the Bellwether Phenotyping Facility, which allows non-destructive analysis of up to 1140 small to medium sized plants at multiple points over a desired growth period.

"By controlling the environment for more than 1,100 plants, using automated, high resolution imaging to measure multiple different characteristics over time, we expect to be able to measure the interactions between genes and the environment," said Ivan Baxter, USDA research scientist and principal investigator at the Danforth Plant Science Center.

The facility includes a 680 sq. ft., climate controlled, Conviron growth house, which permits precise control over temperature, humidity and light intensity. The robotic conveyor system moves plants through watering and nutrient stations, in addition to the imaging stations.

The Danforth Center will unveil the new technology to the scientific community during its annual Fall Symposium, to be held September 25 – 27, 2013 at the Center. Funding for the facility was provided in part by through a $1 million gift from The Bellwether Foundation.

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research aims to feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants and contract revenue from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates and Howard G. Buffett Foundations.

The Danforth Center invites you to visit its website, www.danforthcenter.org, featuring interactive information on the Center scientists, news, and “Roots & Shoots” blog that help keep visitors up to date with Center’s current operations and areas of research. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Karla Roeber
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