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The Microphenotron: a robotic miniaturized plant phenotyping platform with diverse applications in chemical biology

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Article number10
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/03/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>Plant Methods
Volume13
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Background: Chemical genetics provides a powerful alternative to conventional genetics for understanding gene function. However, its application to plants has been limited by the lack of a technology that allows detailed phenotyping of whole-seedling development in the context of a high throughput chemical screen. We have therefore sought to develop an automated micro-phenotyping platform that would allow both root and shoot development to be monitored under conditions where the phenotypic effects of large numbers of small molecules can be assessed.
Results: The ‘Microphenotron’ platform uses 99-well microtitre plates to deliver chemical treatments 23 to seedlings of Arabidopsis thaliana L. and is based around four components: (a) the ‘Phytostrip’, a novel seedling growth device that enables chemical treatments to be combined with the automated capture of images of developing roots and shoots; (b) an illuminated robotic platform that uses commercially available robotic manipulator to capture images of developing shoots and roots; (c) software to control the sequence of robotic movements and integrate these with the image capture process; (d) purpose-made image analysis software for automated extraction of quantitative phenotypic data. Imaging of each plate (representing 80 separate assays) takes 4 min and can easily be performed daily for time-course studies. As currently configured, the Microphenotron has a capacity of 54 microtitre plates in a growth room footprint of 2.1 m2, giving a potential throughput of up to 4320 chemical treatments in a typical 10 d experiment. The Microphenotron has been validated by using it to screen a collection of 800 natural compounds for qualitative effects on root development and to perform a quantitative analysis of the effects of a range of concentrations of nitrate and ammonium on seedling development.
Conclusions: The Microphenotron is an automated screening platform that for the first time is able to combine large numbers of individual chemical treatments with a detailed analysis of whole-seedling development, and particularly root system development. The Microphenotron should provide a powerful new tool for chemical genetics and for wider chemical biology applications, including the development of natural and synthetic chemical products for improved agricultural sustainability.