Getting down to the fine detail with digital phenotyping in the lab

Professor Malcolm Hawkesford, Head of the Plant Sciences Department at Rothamsted Research, continues his series on digital phenotyping. This time he examines digital phenotyping in the lab which enables us to capture precision detail, often not visible to the naked eye

Last time I examined the field scale gantry-mounted digital phenotyping equipment available at Rothamsted Research and Cranfield University. This high-tech kit allows high quality images of crops out in the field or in the controlled environment of the glasshouse. Here I outline the benefits of the smaller-scale lab-based digital phenotyping.


Precision results in the lab

Where really fine detail is required, CHAP’s Digital Phenotyping Lab run by Dr Tom Ashfield here at Rothamsted. It takes plants that have been grown in a greenhouse, for instance, and does similar kinds of measurements to those outlined in my previous article.

The difference is that rather than looking at fields full of plants or a whole crop, it focuses on individual plants or leaves. In the lab, which is very controlled, you can produce very precise spatial detail, whereas in a bigger facility you may have difficulty in focusing on such fine detail.

Increased control

It’s not so high throughput, as you are working with individual plants or parts of plants and it involves a lot more manual input, but for some small-scale applications it can be more appropriate, as the level of precision can be higher.

One of the benefits of using the equipment in the Digital Phenotyping Lab is that if, for example, you were doing pathogenic infection stuff you wouldn’t want to infect the whole experimental trial. You could just bring in certain materials with pathogen infections, do the measurements, then take them away and dispose of them without infecting the whole field or, in the greenhouse system, potentially transferring infections where you don’t want them.

From microscope to satellite

Phenotyping on a much larger scale is done with satellite remote sensing. Although satellite remote sensing may seem a long way from the kind of things that Tom does in the digital phenotyping lab the kind of technologies are all very similar. It’s all about taking images and analysing the spectral properties of those images. All of the different devices that are available often have quite similar capabilities, but they are all ultimately complementary, and each may have particular advantages and may suit specific circumstances.

Read the first two articles in this series, Beginners’ guide to digital phenotyping and Field scale gantry-mounted digital phenotyping. Next time, in Extracting the data from digital phenotyping images, Professor Hawkesford will look at how images can be used to show information not generally available through visual means.

To see an example of how the digital phenotyping lab’s detailed work has brought real benefits, read Soft-Fruit Analysis project.

If you want to take your research to another level, reach out to the CHAP team to discuss potential project opportunities using the Digital Phenotyping Lab, the Rothamsted Research Field Scanalyser and/or the Plant Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility. Email us using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.