CIAT’s Phenomics Platform scientists can now study crop roots directly in the field using non-invasive technologies, that is, without a direct contact with the roots to avoid damage. The use of this technology known as “ground-penetrating radar (GPR)” offers advantages in 2D and 3D image visualization to study the characteristics of the plant roots at multiple times during the growth cycle, without harvesting or destroying the samples.

The Phenomics Platform, which operates as part of CIAT’s Agrobiodiversity research area, is using this novel tool through a partnership with Texas A&M University and IDS North America Ltd., with support from the National Science Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Michael Selvaraj, lead scientist of CIAT’s Phenomics Platform and research in GPR, added that “this is a promising technology for estimating the development of biomass in cassava roots, which in the future will expand to research in other root and tuber crops.

GPR is currently being used for the remote sensing of cassava roots, in an effort to estimate their biomass and select the plants with early root filling in order to increase the crop productivity, particularly in plants that must cope with low levels of nutrients and water. The technology also allows for multiple measures in the field, covering a large quantity of plants and during their growth cycle. Alfredo Delgado, Texas A&M University expert in GPR data collection and analysis, said that the idea of implementing this technology in the field gives researchers the opportunity to measure the plant biomass and orientation.

“Characterizing crop roots under field conditions through a conventional method is a time-consuming and resource-intensive task. Therefore, new, fast, non-destructive protocols are required for phenotyping roots. GPR applications help make available new knowledge on the environmental factors that impact root growth, which will lead to improved crop productivity,” explained Milton Valencia, research assistant at CIAT’s Phenomics Platform.

In practice, these techniques and methods will provide breeders and scientists with more accurate information to breed new improved crop varieties. Today, with the advances of the GPR technology, practitioners in agricultural sciences will be able to observe faster the relationship between a plant and its roots, and evaluate the roots of various crops such as beans and forages.

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