Plant Pest News

A 'Fitbit' for plants?

 Plant breeders test their experiments by growing the seeds of their labor. They cross two different plants that have desirable traits. They sow the resulting seeds and evaluate the results, hoping to find a candidate variety that is better than anything currently available.

The "laboratory" is often an outdoor field with thousands of plants. Farmers have monitored their fields for millennia by simply walking among the rows of plants, observing changes over time, and noting which plants do better.

Photo Credit: Jared Crain

But as plant breeding technology becomes more complicated, farmers and scientists want specific data. They want to know exactly how tall the plants are, or exactly how green the leaves are. In a large test field, getting exact numbers means hours or even days of labor for a plant breeder.

Knowing what physical traits a plant has is called phenotyping. Because it is such a labor intensive process, scientists are working to develop technology that makes phenotyping much easier.

The tool is called the Phenocart, and it captures essential plant health data. The Phenocart measures plant vital signs like growth rate and color, the same way a Fitbit monitors human health signals like blood pressure and physical activity.

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