30. Mar. 2022

The world exhibition EXPO Dubai 2020 ended on 31 March 2022. The joint exposition of the South Moravian biotechnology company Photon Systems Instruments (PSI) and CEITEC Masaryk University (MU) was declared by the organisers as one of the most interesting, that the visitors should not miss. Organizers rated the WE SPEAK PLANTISH exhibit as the eleventh most interesting innovative technology at the EXPO. In addition to the Czech News Agency, also the Dubai based portal Focus reported about this success.

The autonomous phenotyping unit produced by PSI with the poetic name "WE SPEAK PLANTISH" ranked eleventh among twenty exhibits, which, according to the organizers of EXPO 2020 in Dubai, visitors must not miss. "We must realize that the We Speak Plantish exhibit is not the eleventh out of twenty, but the eleventh out of several thousand exhibits that were presented at the EXPO by one hundred and ninety-two countries," said Commissioner General Jiri F. Potuznik. "Moreover, this exhibit is not a projection or model, but a fully functional technology, which PSI not only developed at its own expense, but also installed and operated in the Czech pavilion," adds Potuznik.

The technology, which not only determines the plants´ immediate needs, various types of stress or possible diseases based on the reactions of plants to light, but also the quality of their genetic makeup during long-term data collection and analysis, is part of the permanent exhibition Country for the Future. In front of visitors, it has been operating independently with remote control from Drasov for half a year.

"The best universities around the world are interested in our technology that is able to display the complex processes taking place in plants - in other words, that it is able to understand their language. Interest was raised by universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and others, "comments Martin Trtílek, director of PSI. "Many of them have already been installed by PSI."

It is not just about the exhibit itself, but about the importance of phenotyping technology for science and for the mankind. Biotechnology developers from PSI actively cooperate with scientists from CEITEC MU working in the field of genomics and proteomics of plant systems. Thanks to the modern phenotyping technology that PSI is developing, scientists from CEITEC MU are able to determine how plants feel and what they need. Automated plant phenotyping is used to describe the characteristics and properties of plants depending on the environment, which is very important for the search for new varieties of crops, but also for the development of biostimulants, fertilisers, and other technologies and agronomic practices. This unique technology allows scientists to understand the subtle yet fascinating language of plants.

“Speaking Plantish means for us to be in harmony with plants, to understand their health, their moods, and how they feel at any moment under given conditions. Plants are really important for the planet and for life on Earth! All living creatures on this planet need plants to live – thanks to plants we can breathe, thanks to plants we have food, thanks to plants we feed our livestock, thanks to plants we can build our homes and our furniture,” explains founder and executive director of PSI, Martin Trtilek, detailing the importance of his technology.

“Thanks to sophisticated phenotyping systems that are designed to grow plants under precisely set conditions, we can see how the plants are doing and how they are responding to changes. The device allows us to record research data in various time ranges, from hours to weeks or even months, and then analyses this data. And all this non-invasively, without damaging or even touching the plant,” says Karel Říha, plant geneticist and scientific director of CEITEC MU.

“South Moravia is a strong player in agricultural-oriented biotechnologies thanks to well-established scientific and technological cooperation between CEITEC and PSI. This cooperation has such deep roots that we have jointly established a unique Czech Plant Phenotyping Platform, which was  recommended by the government to be included in national research infrastructures, which happens only exceptionally,” adds Jiří Nantl, director of the CEITEC MU research institute.

CEITEC MU recently completed the installation of a new phenotyping instrument in its shared Plant Sciences core facility. "Plant phenotyping is currently one of our flagship technologies, as confirms this recent award at the EXPO Dubai, but also the Czech Plant Phenotyping Platform, which will soon be funded by the Czech government. This platform represents a unique opportunity for plant research," explains Nantl.

"Progress in the field of plant research is clearly visible and will certainly be one of the priorities of the forthcoming Czech Presidency of the EU. The war in Ukraine reminds Europe, among other things, of the need to secure at least food independence of Europe. Plant research, which has long been rooted in our institutional strategy, will finally receive the attention it deserves. Plants are an important source of life on Earth, but unfortunately their importance is often underestimated, "concludes Jiří Nantl.

The exhibit of PSI and CEITEC MU attracted the attention of the international audience with a bold original statement WE SPEAK PLANTISH for the last six months. Now this unique facility will be transported to the VIDA! Science Center in Brno, where it will continue to play its educational and awareness role.

How does the phenotyping platform work?

You can imagine the phenotyping platform as a modern plant maintenance house. The plants are placed in pots and move with the help of integrated robotic solutions, without human intervention. The individual pots are placed in transport discs and are transferred on a conveyor belt from the cultivation areas towards the display units and irrigation stations. The actual weight of the plant is measured and recorded in the irrigation station where the exact amount of water for its optimal growth is being added. Digital data on plants are obtained using special scanners from above, but also from the side views. LED lamps placed above the pots simulate the sunlight and can be adjusted as needed to simulate different times of the day, the required light intensity and the ideal light spectrum. Thanks to phenotyping, scientists know how to determine how each plant feels at a given moment. In basic terms, this device serves as a plant language translator, which tells us whether the plants are stressed or are satisfied.

We collaborated with the STEEZY studio on the creation of the final concept of the exhibition. The visitors of the exposition are pulled to the story by a large screen, which is located behind the phenotyping device and from which the studied plant speaks to them. The plant tries to explain to the visitors its fundamental importance for life on Earth and wants to motivate them to try to understand the plants more. The plant explains the contemporary challenges of plants, such as climate change, which will also have a major impact on all of humanity. The plant strives to establish a dialogue with visitors from all over the world, and this suggests that the solution to the outlined problems lies in communication and understanding of the plants. Science and technology are here for us to give us the opportunity to understand the needs of plants and enable visitors to enter the fascinating world of plant research.


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