Transparent soil allows detailed study of roots

Oct 01, 2012
Transparent soil allows detailed study of roots

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from the James Hutton Institute and the University of Abertay Dundee have developed a see-through soil which will enable them to study roots in detail for the first time.

Addressing global issues such as food security, and climate change presents researchers with a variety of challenges, including the study of the underground world of ; called the rhizosphere. The creation of the new see-through soil marks a milestone in the study of the rhizosphere and will have applications in many different areas of research.

Lionel Dupuy, a theoretical biologist in the Ecological Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, said: "With this new technique, scientists now have a way to observe soil processes, live and in situ. This is exciting because there are so many things to discover in soil and we don't know yet what they are."

After two years of painstaking research to find a compound that could replicate , the team found success with a synthetic composite known as Nafion, often used in power-generating fuel cells.

This artificial soil is not especially transparent on its own: it becomes translucent when saturated with a special water-based solution. The product is a substrate which is very similar to real soil in terms of physical and biological variables, such as water retention, ability to hold nutrients and capability for sustaining plant growth.

Dr Dupuy explained: "There are many different scientific disciplines that could benefit from this research. Transparent soils could be used to study the spread and transmission of soil borne pathogens.

"In , transparent soils could be used to screen the root systems of a range of genotypes. This would help breed crops with more efficient root systems so that agriculture can rely less on fertilisers.

"Physiologists could also use transparent soils to understand how plants or microbes access nutrients that are heterogeneously distributed in soil. Soil ecologists could use this system to make microcosm experiments where observation on interactions of different species can be observed," he added.

According to the team behind the see-through soil, future paths of research will focus on controlling a greater range of chemical and physical properties, so that applications of transparent soils to the many disciplines of biology are possible. They also hope to lower the overall cost of the technique, so that it can be used by everyone and at a larger scale.

Explore further: Efficient synthesis of polyurethane raw materials from carbon dioxide

More information: Transparent Soil for Imaging the Rhizosphere. 2012. Downie, H., Holden, N., Otten, W., Spiers, A.J., Valentine, T.A., Dupuy, L.X. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44276. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044276) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0044276

Related Stories

Rediscovering sound soil management

May 10, 2011

At the same time that demand for food is soaring along with the world's population, the soil's ability to sustain and enhance agricultural productivity is becoming increasingly diminished and unreliable.

Fingerprinting fugitive dust

Jul 21, 2011

Each community of soil microbes has a unique fingerprint that can potentially be used to track soil back to its source, right down to whether it came from dust from a rural road or from a farm field, according to a U.S. Department ...

Where is your soil water? Crop yield has the answer

Jul 01, 2008

Crop yield is highly dependent on soil plant-available water, the portion of soil water that can be taken up by plant roots. Quantitative determination of the maximum amount of plant-available water in soil using traditional ...

Using biochar to boost soil moisture

Nov 08, 2011

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are leading the way in learning more about "biochar," the charred biomass created from wood, other plant material, and manure.

Some trees 'farm' bacteria to help supply nutrients

Jul 29, 2010

Some trees growing in nutrient-poor forest soil may get what they need by cultivating specific root microbes to create compounds they require. These microbes are exceptionally efficient at turning inorganic minerals into ...

Recommended for you

Electronic switches on the molecular scale

11 hours ago

A molecular electronic switch is a junction created from individual molecules that can alternate between two or more stable states, making the switch act as a conductor or an insulator. These switches show ...

Mimicking photosynthesis with man-made leaves

12 hours ago

Scientists have long been trying to emulate the way in which plants harvest energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Plants are able to absorb photons from even weak sunlight using light antennae made ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
1 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2012
Has anyone priced Nafion?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.