In a first-of-its-kind project, researchers from the Global Institute For Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan are using portable laser synchrotron technology to provide live imaging of living plants.
This imaging provides critical data on how the plant is using minerals as well as how it is responding to harsh conditions.
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“We can analyze multiple biochemical components and watch the entire plant to understand how they move,” USask plant molecular biologist Brian Ham said. “Or what the response of the chemical is inside this plant.”
“For example,” GIFS CEO Steve Webb explained, “are there ways for us to understand how plants communicate when they’re nutrient stressed? Can we be more proactive in applying fertilizer in different ways or apply in areas that need it first?”
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Currently, there is no way to image nutrient distribution in a plant without uprooting it for diagnosis. These experts say it could one day be a tool used by farmers and perhaps even doctors worldwide.
“[We can use] this ability to image plants without destroying them… And bring that power of the synchrotron to a patient — to a person or to an animal,” Webb said.
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For now, the focus is on food security.
“We always discuss how we can improve our food quality or how we can provide better food to the entire world,” Ham said.
The research is ongoing but they hope to provide solutions within the next decade for better crop sustainability amid a quickly changing global climate.
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