Image Analysis: The New Bottleneck in Plant Phenotyping [Applications Corner]

Plant phenotyping is the identification of effects on the phenotype (i.e., the plant appearance and performance) as a result of genotype differences (i.e., differences in the genetic code) and the environmental conditions to which a plant has been exposed [1]?[3]. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, large-scale experiments in plant phenotyping are a key factor in meeting the agricultural needs of the future to feed the world and provide biomass for energy, while using less water, land, and fertilizer under a constantly evolving environment due to climate change.

Working on model plants (such as Arabidopsis), combined with remarkable advances in genotyping, has revolutionized our understanding of biology but has accelerated the need for precision and automation in phenotyping, favoring approaches that provide quantifiable phenotypic information that could be better used to link and find associations in the genotype [4]. While early on, the collection of phenotypes was manual, currently noninvasive, imaging-based methods are increasingly being utilized [5], [6]. However, the rate at which phenotypes are extracted in the field or in the lab is not matching the speed of genotyping and is creating a bottleneck [1].

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