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Closing the phenotyping gap

Increasing plant productivity is at the centre of major economic, ecological and societal challenges and requires quantitative analysis of plant phenotypic traits, from single cells to plant and stand level, and their dynamic responses to the environment.

The ability to quantitatively analyze plant phenotypic traits is the essential requirement for genetic and physiological research to address such challenges as feed and food for a growing population. Molecular plant biology and genomics approaches were widely developed within the recent decade with the hope to address these challenges and increase plant performance under a variety of sub-optimal conditions. However, knowledge about genes and their function is not sufficient to predict the plant phenotype. Therefore plant phenotyping - the characterization of the phenotype, the structure and function of plants exposed to an heterogeneous environment - is as important as genotyping to establish the relation between genes and traits which determines plant growth, productivity and the efficient use of resources. The European Plant Phenotyping Network (EPPN) is a partnership of 14 plant phenotyping centers putting the plant phenotype into the focus of attention. “The genotype, the environment, and the phenotype interact in a multifaceted way. Unrevealing this relation is important for basic understanding of the interaction of plants with the environment and a cornerstone for future breeding programs,” says the project coordinator Ulrich Schurr from the Institute of Bio- and Geosciences (IBG), IBG:2 Plant sciences, Forschungszentrum Jülich. One of the core activities of EPPN, provideing access to plant phenotyping infrastructure, has given plant scientists across Europe the opportunity to address the relationship between the plant and the environment with leading plant phenotyping centres through a Transnational Access scheme. After 2 and a half years of the 4 year project over 50 different plant phenotyping experiments were enabled. In most cases the experiments addressed response of different plant traits above and below ground to abiotic stress such as limited nutrient or water availability. “The EPPN program successfully promotes close interaction between very diverse user groups and plant phenotyping experts through collaborative projects, which will increase basic understanding of plant biology and is a step towards more sustainable crops” maintains Schurr. In addition, EPPN actively fosters a discussion about need and requirements of plant phenotyping .Several level of communication have been established and include the continuous exchange between already existing and newly developing plant phenotyping platforms, between platform operators and diverse user groups, from academia and industry as well as with technology developers. Complementary research activities include the development of optical instruments for high-throughput measurement of plant phenotypic traits as well as the definition of good phenotyping practice including the optimization of experimental protocols, recording of environmental variables, experimental design, and standardization of data exchange formats and analytical tools. According to Ulrich Schurr, the project is an important nucleus for the development and integration of the pan-European community focused on plant phenotyping strongly demanded by plant scien-tists and plant breeding and production industry. Project details • Project acronym: EPPN • Website: • Participants: Germany (Coordinator), France, The Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Australia • Project FP7 284443 • Total costs: € 7,056,267.45 • EU contribution: € 5,500,000 • Duration: January 2012 - December 2015


Australia, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, France, Hungary, Israel, Netherlands, United Kingdom