7. Dec. 2021

When state-of-the-art technology and scientific know-how come together, big things can happen. The South Moravian biotechnology company Photon Systems Instruments (PSI) is developing high-tech phenotyping systems for plant and algae research, which are used by scientists at prestigious universities around the world, as well as by astronauts in space. For example, the FluorPen developed by PSI engineers has been used on the International Space Station for the last three years. The astronauts use it to find out how plants thrive and how gravity or cosmic radiation affect their health. This year, PSI is once again presenting itself in the Czech pavilion at the world exhibition EXPO 2020 in Dubai. This time, for the first time together with the international research centre CEITEC Masaryk University (MU).

Biotechnology developers from PSI actively collaborate with scientists from CEITEC working in the field of genomics and proteomics of plant systems. CEITEC, with its state-of-the-art laboratories, is not only an important research centre in the South Moravian Region, but is also gradually becoming a respected player at the international level. Thanks to modern phenotyping technology developed by PSI, CEITEC scientists are able to determine how plants feel and what they need in a given moment. Automated plant phenotyping is used to describe the characteristics and properties of plants depending on the environment, which is a very important step in the process of searching for new crop varieties, but also for the development of biostimulants and other agricultural products, 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 Trtílek, detailing here 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 analyse 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 recently 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.

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. The PSI and CEITEC exhibition attracts the attention of an international audience with the bold statement WE SPEAK PLANTISH. (#WESPEAKPLANTISH)

Visitors to this year's EXPO 2020 World Exhibition in Dubai have a unique opportunity to see this facility in action until the end of March 2022. After that, this facility should be located in the VIDA Science Centre in Brno, where it will continue to play its educational and awareness role.

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