Rothamsted Research Field Scanalyser

The Field Scanalyser at Rothamsted Research

In May 2015, LemnaTech GmbH completed the construction of the world's first fully automated field phenotyping facility, the Field Scanalyser, at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, U.K. The world's largest and most sophisticated phenotyping facility to date, the Field Scanalyser will revolutionise the way that crop growth and health is monitored in the field. The development of the facility is supported jointly by Rothamsted Research and the BBSRC.

The facility comprises a motorised gantry that carries a large range of cameras and sensors for simultaneous and non-destructive analyses of plant development, health and architecture, in real-time. On board illumination facilitates data collection and sensors include multi-wavelength imaging systems, thermal imaging system, an imaging sensor to measure chlorophyll fluorescence decay kinetics and a laser system for 3D visualisation and crop height determination. The facility will continually monitor crops within an 11m x 114m area and the data collected will provide a detailed picture of crop development and health across the entire lifecycle, with a high-degree of accuracy and reproducibility.

A view inside the Field Scanalyser crane, showing the cameras and sensors

Currently, the facility is being used to investigate nutrient variety interactions in wheat and monitor the development of pre-breeding wheat varieties to understand the interaction between genotypes and environment for yields and yield components. This high-throughput phenotyping approach will help researchers identify new traits contributing to the genetic diversity of complex traits, such as nutrient use efficiency, and dissect their regulation using forward genetics approaches. This supports Rothamsted's 20:20 Wheat® strategic theme, which aims to provide the knowledge base and tools to increase UK wheat yield potential to 20 tonnes of wheat per hectare within the next 20 years.

As the Field Scanalyser is a prototype, a multi-disciplinary team established at Rothamsted are working with LemnaTech to overcome the challenges faced to optimally configure and operate the facility. These challenges chiefly concern: ensuring the accuracy of the obtained data relative to manual measurements; automation of the image processing chain using LemnaTech software; and data management. Storage for the huge amount data generated by the systems is another challenge: for instance, approximately 30GB of data are generated from all cameras and sensors in just one scan! Rothamsted's IT department and LemnaTech have already begun developing approaches to manage this 'big data'. Although LemnaTech provides software to visualise and analyse the data to some extent, computer scientists at Rothamsted aim to develop a software toolbox to explore further capabilities of the Field Scanalyser - so, stay tuned!

The Field Scanalyser is a milestone in agricultural research, exploring the wider potential of imaging tools to streamline the phenotyping process to better understand the physiology and genetic diversity of crops. Ultimately, this enables the capacity to generate greater research outputs within a given time, accelerating pre-breeding research.

Three specialists, Drs Pouria Sadeghi, Nicolas Virlet and Kasra Sabermanesh, are working full time on the project, which is being led by Dr Malcolm Hawkesford, leader of the 20:20 Wheat® programme.

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