July 9, 2018, by jicke

Amazing plant root images unearthed on new website

Plant scientists at the University of Nottingham have created a new website that takes you deep underground with revealing pictures of plant roots taken using X-ray CT imaging.

The Hidden Half website is a directory of plant root systems that have been imaged at The Hounsfield Facility. These X-ray CT images showcase for the first time the beauty, diversity and complexity of plant root systems in their undisturbed soil environment.The project was funded by the BBSRC.

Complex structures 

Plant roots are highly versatile structures with key functions that enable the plant to survive in the natural environment. They act to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, provide anchoring to the ground, storage for food and nutrients and also allow the plant to explore and colonise new regions of land via vegetative propagation. The shape and structure of the root system as a whole can be complex with both genetic and environmental factors influencing their form. Understanding how plant root system architecture develops is of fundamental importance to our future food security by helping us to breed more efficient varieties of crops that can produce high quality foods in the face of increasing environmental threats such as global climate change and soil degradation.

Studying plant roots in soil is a challenging task. If you dig a plant from the soil in your garden, you’ll quickly discover that it is a destructive process. Even with extreme care, parts of the roots tend break off or are left in the soil and the overall shape of the root system is often altered as the supporting soil collapses. The opaque nature of the soil has historically presented a barrier to the study of roots in their undisturbed environment which is why they are often called ‘the hidden half’ of plant biology. However, at the University of Nottingham we have used an imaging technique to investigate roots without having to pull them out of the soil. We use X-ray vision!

Emily Morris is a PhD plant scientist and has been part of the group that has put the website together, she says: “We’re delighted the website has gone live as it provides us with a fantastic platform to show the capabilities of the imaging techniques we use here at the Hounsfield Facility. As well as being scientific the images are also very beautiful and show the amazing parts of plants that the soil usually hides.We hope it will get people excited about root science.”

To take a look at these amazing images visit: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/hiddenhalf



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